Colourful butterflies, song birds, busy insects – attracting wildlife into the garden will give the whole family something to watch, listen to and learn about. And not only that, you’ll also be helping the environment by providing a habitat to encourage some of the rarer creatures to take up residence or feed.
It doesn’t matter what size your outside space is, or whether you’re out in the countryside or the middle of the urban jungle. A few quick and easy considerations in your garden design can help invite animals, minibeasts or birds into the garden. Here are our top tips and ideas for getting furry, flying or feathered guests to visit your home.
Creating a garden pond is a great way to attract wildlife. It will provide a habitat for frogs, toads, newts and tadpoles, as well as various types of insects. These insects and animals will, in turn, encourage other animals like hedgehogs and low-flying bats to visit your garden.
Your pond's position is critical to its success. It needs enough sunshine to keep the water warm as well as sufficient shade to discourage algae from growing. Remember to create a slope at one side using pebbles or rocks so that animals like hedgehogs can get out. It also makes the water easier to reach for small birds. Head to our ‘How to create a pond’ article for more advice and tips.
Any garden can feature a pond, no matter the size. If you don’t have space for a larger pond, check out our video (below) with advice on how to create a mini pond using a plastic washing up bowl. Be sure to fill it with rainwater from a water butt as wildlife won’t use a pond filled with tap water.
As well as water, there are lots of other habitats that animals, birds and insects need to thrive.
Help them out by putting up an insect house. We offer a ready-made insect house to draw in and shelter insects such as ladybirds and bees. Mason bees, in particular, are important for pollination and they will love an insect house like this. Alternatively, create your own by making a wooden box from timber and filling it with bamboo canes – the perfect hideaway for insects.
Go one step further by building a bug hotel. Stack bricks and deck tiles and fill the spaces with sticks, pots and natural items like leaves and pine cones. Watch our video (below) to find out more about how to build a bug hotel.
For frogs, toads and hedgehogs, pile logs and leaves in a sheltered and quiet spot. This creates an enticing sanctuary for them to shelter in.
Plant food and fertilisers containing chemicals can be harmful to animals – both wild and pets. As well as this they can actually weaken the health of plants over time. Instead opt for our Safe by Nature range – 100% organic plant food for healthier plants, vegetables and fruit. It is made from natural ingredients to give a boost of nutrients and support strong growth, without the need for damaging chemicals. And it’s completely safe for all of the creatures visiting your garden.
When it comes to pest control, think carefully about what you use. Whilst slugs and insects are a nuisance when they attack plants and flowers, they help to balance biodiversity. Toxic pesticides are harmful to all kinds of wildlife in the garden. Hedgehogs, snails and insects like bees and butterflies are at direct risk, and the pesticide can be passed on to bats and birds.
Look after the wildlife in your garden by choosing non-toxic, metaldehyde-free pesticide. And try sprinkling crushed egg shells or used coffee grounds on soil around plants to deter slugs. Learn more in our ‘How to control garden pests’ article.
There’s loads that you can do with plants to entice animals and insects. Attract bees and butterflies with scented plants that will fill the air with colour and perfume. We recommend herbs, pollinating plants and wildflowers. Buddleia (*buddleja*) is a particular favourite with butterflies, so much so that it's also commonly known as the Butterfly Bush, while lavender (*lavandula*), rosemary (*rosmarinus officinalis*) and thyme (*thyme vulgaris*) are loved by butterflies and bees alike. Both look for open flowers with large heads, making sunflowers (*helianthus*) a top choice as well. Many wildflowers, like corn marigolds (*chrysanthemum segetum*), harebell (*campanula rotundifolia*) and cowslips (*primula veris*), work well in borders or create your own meadow (or mini-meadow if space is tight) with our mixed wildflower seeds or wildflower turf. Get more inspiration for creating a butterfly garden in our video (below).
As well as planting brightly-coloured plants for bees and butterflies, add some white and pale-coloured plants. These tempt in nocturnal insects like moths, which in turn attract bats.
Try to ensure that there's at least one plant flowering in your garden at any time of the year. This is great for bees, as rather than hibernating, they simply become less active in colder weather. So encourage them back into your garden on warm, sunny winter days with the promise of food with winter-flowering plants like crocus.
Fast-growing annual and biennial plants like salvia (*salvia officinalis*) and sweet peas (*lathyrus odoratus*) not only look amazing but will also encourage pollinating insects – though you will have to replace them each year.
Climbing plants encourage insects and birds to live or roost inside them. Add climbers and a trellis to support it as it grows taller. If it’s a climber that grows flowers, like a clematis or a passion flower, it will attract bees too.
Hedgehog numbers in the UK have more than halved since 2000, according to ‘The State of Britain’s Hedgehogs Report’ (conducted by the People’s Trust for Endangered Species and the British Hedgehog Preservation Society, 2018). A British wildlife favourite, you can help protect hedgehogs in your garden with some hog-specific actions.
Firstly, create your own ‘hedgehog highway’ so that hedgehogs can pass between gardens to find food and a mate. If you’ve got a wooden fence, cut a 13centimetre (cm) arch into the bottom. Or dig a channel underneath your wall, fence or gate if there isn’t already a gap. With a brick wall, remove a brick from the bottom of the wall for hedgehogs.
Your hedgehog visitors will also appreciate some shelter for nesting. Make a hedgehog house out of plywood to give them a home of their own. Place it in a shady, quiet area in your garden for the best chance of attracting hedgehogs.
Fill a plant saucer or dish with water when the weather is warm and leave it on the ground in your garden for hedgehogs. Don’t leave out milk as it will make hedgehogs ill.
Finally, check for hedgehogs in bonfires before you light them and in compost heaps before forking over.
A compost heap not only helps with your gardening, it also draws in insects and worms, woodlice, centipedes and slow worms. These, in turn, encourage other wildlife into your garden, such as birds, hedgehogs and bats.
Start your own compost heap on a flat, level patch of soil. Pile up garden waste as well as food waste like vegetable peelings, tea bags and coffee grounds. If you want to contain the compost, which speeds up the rotting process, use a plastic or wooden compost bin (pictured). Turn the compost regularly and it will be ready to use the following year. Find out more in our ‘How to make compost’ article.
Birds are a joy to watch in your garden and are useful visitors as they will eat up pests like slugs, snails and aphids. They flock to plants and trees that produce berries and seeds for them to eat, like holly, spindle, firethorn and crab apple.
Encourage them further by putting out food in bird feeders and on bird tables, as well as suet balls or cakes for energy, particularly in winter. Hang feeders for birds like sparrows, tits and finches. Ensure the feeders are in an open area of your garden away from hedges and bushes to deter vermin. And sprinkle some seed on the floor of your garden for ground-feeding birds like robins, blackbirds and chaffinches. It’s best to do this in the morning so the seed is mostly gone by the evening, again to avoid rats and mice.
Provide water for drinking, bathing and splashing around with a bird bath, or even just a plant saucer full of water. This is essential at both the height of summer and during cold spells in winter. Situate close enough to bushes and trees so that birds can escape into them if they get alarmed, but do check that cats can’t use them as cover to attack.
Lastly, offer birds a safe spot to nest. Bird boxes should be up by mid-autumn as many birds will be looking to visit in the colder months. Place them between two to four metres (m) up a tree or wall, and, if possible, face them in a north-east direction as this is most likely to be away from strong sunlight and wet winds. Alternatively, shrubs and trees give birds nesting spots. Pyracantha, holly and berberis are all good choices and their berries will also provide bird food. Take care not to disturb nesting birds, do so by avoiding trimming shrubs and hedges between January and August.
For more information about caring for birds in your garden, head to our how to article.
Watch horticulturalist Adam Pasco bring some of our ideas to life in the video below. Then, the only thing left is to sit back and enjoy watching the wildlife that will start visiting your garden.