Welcome spring to your Nature Space
My small cottage garden has become a lot more exciting in the last week or so. There is the unmistakable whiff of spring in the air, the sun visits a lot more often, the birds are getting busy and their song is becoming increasingly louder and more beautiful. With that in mind, I started spending more time in the garden patiently checking and waiting for it to fully awaken and become full of life and colour. So far I’ve seen some very hungry honey bees flying around my grape hyacinths, and in my pond one of the many resident water striders is already awake waiting for his companions to join. I have also spotted a juvenile newt, a huge dragonfly nymph at the bottom of the pond and yesterday I saw my first early bumblebee of the year. What an exciting time!
Whether you have a large garden, a patio or a window box, mid-March is the perfect time to get your nature space ready for the arrival of all the species emerging from hibernation, so they have plenty of food and shelter while the weather is still chilly. So what are the most effective wildlife-friendly actions to implement in spring I hear you ask? Putting up bird boxes? Feeding birds? Planting flowers?
Bird boxes are always a good idea as many bird species, especially house sparrows, are losing their habitat at an alarming rate. March may be a little bit late for putting bird boxes up as many bird species would have already chosen their nesting site, but if you have a bird box that still needs to go up, do it! Even if your bird box doesn’t get occupied this year your feathered garden visitors will have a whole year to get used to the new box and will most likely move in next spring.
But what about the insects, mammals and amphibians visiting your garden?
Bumblebees, solitary bees, butterflies and many other pollinators emerge when the weather warms up, but pollen can be hard to come by. In early Spring flowering bulbs and early flowering perennials are often the only source of food for these fast declining insects. They also bring a lot of colour to still fairly grey looking gardens so everyone wins. They can be planted straight into the ground, in pots if you have a patio, or even in window boxes.
Bees seem to avoid our favourite daffodils unless there is nothing else available. Grape Hyacinths, snowdrops, crocuses and primroses are better alternatives and will come back each year in abundance. One of my favourites, the stunning hellebore, will flower throughout the whole winter!
If you are worried that there aren’t enough flowering plants in your garden to provide food for insects this spring, many garden centres and even supermarkets still sell very cheap established flowering bulbs and primroses which will brighten up your garden and will come back each year. I highly recommend getting your bulbs and other flowering garden plants from sales after the Mother’s Day, especially if you are on a tight budget.
Flowering trees and shrubs also provide a great food source for pollinators, and if you don’t have a large garden you can get dwarf, pillar style fruit trees which can be grown in containers and will still provide you with fruit in autumn. My personal favourite garden tree is a pussy willow. When not in bloom pussy willow is fairly unassuming, but its value to hungry pollinators emerges in the early spring when it flowers, and its status as a larval host for a broad range of butterflies and moths make it a “must-have” for the pollinator garden. Again, dwarf varieties are available for smaller gardens and patios.
If you have plans to sow a flower patch, start to prepare the ground now if possible and dig over the soil. This will then allow any weed seeds in that area to germinate so you can hoe them off before you sow the seed in April. Sowing pollinator-friendly flower seeds is by far the best and the cheapest to provide a beautiful flower display and help hungry pollinators, and even some birds and bats in your garden. One last thing regarding flowers… don’t pull the dandelions. They are flowers too and the bees love hem. If you have them in excess choose not to use pesticides and remove them manually.
Lastly, don’t forget the mammals and amphibians in your garden!
If you are lucky enough to have a pond, frogs, newts and toads will now most likely be moving in to breed. Make sure the conditions for them are optimal and they can easily get in and out of your wildlife pond. I’ve noticed that due to the warmer than usual winter we had, the blanketweed in my pond is more prominent than I would like it to be. If you have the same issue, gently pull out the excess algae and leave it by the side of the pond for a day or so any trapped wildlife can free itself and come back to the pond. To control the blanketweed before the days get warmer place a barley straw cube in the pond or apply barley straw extract.
Joanna Morris - Naturehood Community Engagement Officer for Swindon and a hobbyist wildlife gardener.