Would you like to make your garden more wildlife friendly? It’s an increasingly popular garden trend, as more and more of us learn about just how important it is to use our outdoor spaces to help wildlife.
What is wildlife gardening?
Wildlife gardening, or wild gardening, is an approach to gardening that aims to support your local wildlife. The plants you grow, the products you use, the layout of your garden, and the way you maintain it can all have a huge impact on how wildlife friendly your outdoor space is. Creating a garden for wildlife involves encouraging your local wild animals, birds and insects to visit your garden by providing them with a source of food, water or shelter – or all of these.
Why it’s important to garden for wildlife
You’re no doubt aware of plenty of news stories in recent years about the decline in our native wildlife. The latest State of Nature report revealed that 44% of the UK’s wildlife species have decreased over the past 10 years. Loss of habitats, increased urbanisation, pollution, climate change and pesticide use are all key factors in this decline.
In addition, we’re all being generally tidier in our gardens than we used to be, and more and more of our gardens are being paved over as a way to either keep maintenance down or create parking spaces. Both of these gardening trends are pretty disastrous from wildlife’s point of view.
Faced with such bleak statistics and such big issues, it’s easy to see just how important it is to garden for wildlife, isn’t it? Anything we can do to look after our local wildlife will help to counter those negative trends.
As well as helping our native species thrive, gardening for wildlife is a really great way to improve your garden’s health. The knock-on effect of this is less reliance on chemical products, a more balanced garden ecosystem, and a healthier place to spend time in. Wildlife gardens are also brilliant for teaching kids about nature and encouraging them to spend more time on outdoor activities.
My garden is small, if I garden for wildlife will it make much difference?
If you think making your garden more wildlife friendly won’t have a lot of impact, think again.
Private gardens provide an enormous amount of potential to support wildlife. 87% of UK households have access to a garden, and according to the Wildlife Trusts that translates into an area which is larger than all of their nature reserves combined. Just think about that for a moment.
If we all do even a couple of things to make our gardens more wildlife friendly, the collective impact is huge.
I don’t know where to start when it comes to making a garden for wildlife!
Does idea of creating a wildlife friendly garden feel a bit daunting? Perhaps you’re not sure which parts of your garden could be made more attractive to wildlife, don’t have lots of time for gardening, or simply don’t know where to start. Don’t worry!
Wildlife friendly gardening isn’t at all difficult. Just making a few simple, small changes can have a big impact on the amount of wildlife that visits, and go a long way towards supporting your local species.
Creating a garden for wildlife doesn’t have to be expensive or time-consuming either – in fact, gardening for wildlife is often a more low-maintenance approach than the alternatives.
What does a wildlife garden need?
A wildlife friendly garden should ideally provide all of the following:
- Easy access for wildlife.
- Habitats for a variety of insects and mammals.
- A source of food and water.
- Safe places for wildlife to shelter and breed.
Tick these four boxes, and you’ll be well on the way to turning your garden into a wildlife haven.
How to make your garden wildlife friendly
If you’re thinking “How do I turn my garden into a wildlife haven?”, there are so many ways to encourage wildlife to visit your garden. I’ve created this list of fifty easy ways to garden for wildlife, to help you turn your outdoor space into a habitat for all manner of wild creatures.
I’ve included advice on plants, garden features and gardening tips, plus lots of suggestions on gardening for birds, butterflies, bees and bats. There’s also a selection of my favourite online resources for wildlife gardening.
Please don’t feel like you should be aiming to do everything on the list! Pick and choose what works for you and your garden, or revisit it now and then when you need more ideas on how to make a wildlife garden.
50 easy ways to garden for wildlife
1. Grow pollinator friendly plants
Choose plants that are irresistible to bees, butterflies and other pollinating insects, and they’ll become a regular feature in your garden. Look out for the ‘plants for pollinators’ logo when buying plants. The RHS Plants for Pollinators resource is also a really useful resource for plant advice.
2. Feed the birds
Providing a source of bird food all year round will ensure you get lots of feathered visitors in your garden. In return, they’ll do a great job of keeping insects like aphids at manageable levels. Hanging *bird feeders or a *bird feeding station are both good options, and it’s easy to make your own homemade bird feeders too. Make sure you place your feeders in a spot that you can see from the house, and out of the reach of cats. You should clean your bird feeders regularly, to prevent spread of disease and remove any soggy seed. Once your garden is kitted out for the birds, you can use a *bird ID chart to identify your visitors, or this video to work out who they are from their birdsong:
3. Add a water feature
This doesn’t have to be grand or complicated. A small wildlife pond will be enough to encourage frogs, toads and newts to spawn, which is great news if you’d like less slugs and snails in your garden. A pond will also attract insects such as dragonflies and pond skaters, which are great fun for kids to study. It’s very important to keep any water feature safe; even very shallow water can be a drowning threat for small creatures and young children. Make sure your water feature has stepped access on at least one edge, and install guards if children will be playing in the garden.
4. Grow plants for bees
Bees are vital for the pollination of plants, including food crops. Bees play a crucial role in helping to provide around a third of the food we eat! Growing flowers that attract bees is the best way to supporting your local bee population. My post on the best flowers for bees has lots of suggestions for bee friendly plants.
5. Don’t tidy up your borders
Leaving a border intact rather than cutting down dead plants provides seedheads for birds to feed on, and fallen stems for small mammals, frogs, toads and insects to shelter in. If you do cut back your plants, try to wait until the end of winter, to give creatures who have sheltered there over winter time to move on.
6. Grow wildflowers
*Wildflowers provide food for pollinating insects, wild birds and bats, as well as dense shelter for other small animals. They’re also fast-growing, low-maintenance, help to control weeds, and look fabulous too! My guide to sowing wildflowers takes you through the process step-by-step.
7. Grow plants for butterflies
Like many other native species, butterflies are suffering due to the ongoing loss of wildflower meadows. Adding some nectar rich plants that attract butterflies to a sunny spot in your garden is a great way to tempt butterflies to visit. The flowers that attract butterflies the most in my garden are verbena bonariensis, lavender and echinacea. RSPB has a good guide with more plant suggestions here.
8. Plant in drifts or blocks
Try to avoid planting just one plant on its own, and instead aim to plant several of the same plant next to each other. Planting this way makes it easier for pollinating insects to detect scent and colour. It can look absolutely stunning too.
9. Grow native plants and flowers
It’s a good idea to grow native flowers and plants where possible, as your local garden wildlife will be well-adapted to benefitting from these.
10. Provide a bird bath
Adding a bird bath to your garden is a great way to support your local wild birds, and encourage them to pay you a visit. A *bird bath isn’t only important in the warmer months when ground water is scarce; natural sources of water can easily freeze in winter. Keep your bird bath topped up, and clean it out regularly to prevent the spread of disease.
11. Grow plants for moths
Just like butterflies, moths play an important role in the food chain and the pollination of plants – we just don’t see them as often. RSPB’s Grow Food for Moths guide has lots of plant suggestions to keep moths happy in summer and autumn.
12. Install a bee hotel
Solitary bees and mason bees make their homes in small holes. A bee hotel, or bee house, is the perfect way to provide this type of habitat at home in your garden. You can buy bee hotels, but it’s lots of fun to make a bee hotel too.
13. Grow flowers that provide food for lots of different species
Sunflowers are a great option here; their large flowers are a rich source of pollen and nectar for insects, and the seeds provide a feast for garden birds and squirrels. You don’t need lots of space to grow them either – pick the right variety and you can easily grow sunflowers in pots.
14. Create a log pile
If you’ve got enough room in the garden, a small pile of logs will provide a perfect habitat for insects, mice, hedgehogs, slow worms, newts, toads and fungi. Position your log pile in a quiet part of the garden, and somewhere that you won’t need to disturb very often.
15. Grow wildlife friendly plants that flower at different times throughout the year
Different species are active at different times of year, so growing plants that flower at differnet times will provide a source of pollen and nectar for as much garden wildlife as possible.
16. Install bird nesting boxes
17. Grow plants that provide food for birds
If you’d like to provide more natural sources of bird food in your garden, plants that provide berries and fruit trees are ideal. Those sunflowers I mentioned earlier are perfect too.
18. Make a leaf pile
You’d be surprised how much protection a pile of leaves can give to small mammals and ground-feeding birds. It’s also a great place for them to hibernate. A leaf pile doesn’t need to be big; a small heap in a quiet corner of the garden is great. If you already have a leaf pile, try not to disturb it too much, as there may be some wildlife already in residence.
19. Create a hedgehog highway
According to the Wildlife Trusts, the average hedgehog travels 2km every night. Hedgehogs roam to find food, mates and suitable places to nest. If your garden is completely sealed off at ground level, hedgehogs won’t be able to use it. A hedgehog highways is essentially a small gap in your garden fence or wall at ground level. It allows hedgehogs (and also frogs and toads) to access your garden, and helps link your garden with other habitats in the local area. The Wildlife Trusts have a good guide to creating a hedgehog highway here.
20. Grow plants for bats
To attract bats to your garden, you need to grow plants that attract their prey. Bats feed on night-flying insects – another good reason to grow plants for moths.
21. Go easy on the weeding
Nettles, buttercups and daisies are a great food source for lots of garden wildlife. And much-maligned dandelions are absolutely fantastic at providing a source of pollen and nectar for bees in early spring, when other flowers haven’t started flowering.
22. Grow herbs
As well as being great for your cooking, many herbs will attract pollinating insects to your garden. Great options to grow for wildlife in the garden include rosemary, sage, fennel, mint, chives, wild thyme and wild marjoram.
23. Create a bog garden
If there’s a spot in your garden which is always damp and soggy, turn it to your advantage. Grow plants that love damp conditions, and you’ll provide a habitat for frogs, toads and dragonflies. A bog garden can work well as an alternative to a garden pond in family gardens.
24. Plant spring bulbs
Many *spring bulbs flower before the rest of the garden really gets going, so they’re an easy, low cost way to provide nectar for insects emerging from hibernation in early spring. My post on planting bulbs shows you how to plant them. And if you’re tight on space, consider planting a bulb lasagne in a pot to create a mini nectar feast.
25. Create garden corridors
A network of shade and cover will encourage wildlife to move around your garden. Aim to connect each part of your garden together, filling empty spaces with more wildlife-friendly plants.
26. Grow climbing plants
Climbing plants provide shelter and nesting sites for garden birds and insects. Choose an evergreen such as ivy and it will provide this all year round, plus it’s a great source of food and pollen. Clematis is another good option for a wildlife-friendly climbing plant.
27. Create a compost heap
As well as being a really eco-friendly way to reduce waste and improve your soil, compost is great for wildlife. A compost heap is a haven for minibeasts, and will provide a habitat for worms, woodlice, frogs, slow worms and lots of other insects. In addition, when you spread compost on your soil it encourages worms, who will do a great job of keeping your soil healthy.
28. Install a bat box
Shrinking meadow land and increased land development makes it harder for wild animals to find natural places to roost and nest. Installing a *bat box in your garden will provide an accessible alternative for local bats. The Bat Conservation Trust has some useful information on installing a bat box here.
29. Add a bug hotel
A bug hotel is a great way to provide shelter for insects such as ladybirds, spiders, woodlice and lacewings. You can buy a *bug hotel or have a go at making your own – it can be as simple or as elaborate as you like!
30. Use gravel for paths
Gravel can provide a habitat for insects (in my experience spiders are particularly fond of it), making it a more wildlife-friendly option than concrete or paving slabs. A gravel garden is also an ideal way to grow drought-tolerant plants that attract wildlife in what would otherwise be an inhospitable part of the garden.
31. Plant a tree
Trees provide shelter, nesting sites, food and pollen, so they’re absolutely fantastic for wildlife. If you have room for a range of different trees this will boost the impact.
32. Add shrubs and hedges instead of fences
Hedges and shrubs are perfect shelter for birds, hedgehogs and small mammals, and can also provide a source of pollen and food. Mixed hedges are particularly great for wildlife. Good options are hawthorn, field maple, hornbeam, and holly. You can also add in a rambling plant such as wild rose or honeysuckle to provide an even bigger feast for local wildlife.
33. Don’t prune trees and hedges in spring and summer
At this time of year birds are nesting, so pruning could remove their habitat and disturb their young. Wait until autumn to get the pruners out and you’ll be much less likely to disturb anything.
34. Provide food and water for hedgehogs
If your garden is wildlife friendly, it will naturally be rich in the creatures that hedgehogs like to eat. If you want to boost the amount of food on offer for hedgehogs, tinned dog or cat food and crushed dog or cat biscuits are ideal. You can also buy specialist *hedgehog food.
35. Collect rainwater
Rainwater contains less chemicals than tap water, and is the best option for filling up a pond or a bird bath. A water butt is an easy way to collect rainwater; if your garden is on the small side there are some clever slimline options on the market these days.
36. Let an area of grass grow long
The aim here is to create an area similar to a meadow. Long grass provides shelter for small mammals, and a habitat for many insects.
37. Keep some of your lawn short
Long grass is beneficial for some species, but short grass suits others better. Keeping some of your lawn short by mowing it regularly allows foxes, birds and badgers access to grubs and slugs.
38. Avoid using chemicals in the garden
Pesticides, insecticides and herbicides can be very harmful to wildlife, and can also damage the natural ecosystem in your garden. Aim to garden using more wildlife-friendly methods, such as digging up weeds by hand, using natural slug control, making your own plant food, and growing plants that deter pests or attract pest-eating species.
39. Garden sustainably
If you help your garden to sustain itself wherever possible, you’ll automatically make things better for local wildlife. You’ll also reduce your carbon footprint; this will ultimately help wildlife beyond your own garden, and the planet in general. Easy ways to garden sustainably include recycling wherever possible, limiting plastic use, choosing peat free compost and collecting rainwater. I’ve got lots more sustainable gardening tips in my post on eco gardening.
40. Create a stone pile
Similar to a log pile, a pile of overlapping stones will provide a great backyard wildlife habitat for insects, amphibians and small mammals.
41. Install a hedgehog house
A hedgehog house is a great place to leave hedgehog food, and it also provides somewhere for hedgehogs to shelter during the day, hibernate, or build a nest. When choosing your *hedgehog house, check it’s designed to keep predators out, and isn’t easy to tip over. Avoid products that are made from twigs or mesh, these can cause hedgehog spines to get stuck and trap the animal.
42. Encourage natural pest control
You will inevitably encounter pests in the garden, but there are lots of wildlife-friendly ways to deal with them that don’t involve chemicals. Prevention is definitely easier than cure here. Keep an eye on your plants so you can spot a pest problem early, and create physical barriers to deter slugs and snails with *copper tape or crushed eggshells. By making your garden more wildlife friendly, you will also automatically attract wildlife to your garden that preys on the pests – so they will tackle the pest control for you!
43. Don’t dig as often
Letting your soil settle instead of disturbing it regularly will help soil-dwelling wildlife to thrive, and will also reduce the amount of weeds that grow. This approach is known as No Dig gardening; it’s a popular gardening trend that has lots of benefits, you can find out more about it here.
44. Share your veggies
If you grow fruit and veg, accept that you will always share some of your harvest with the local wildlife, rather than fighting to keep them off your crops. In doing so, you will provide food for your local species, and support the natural ecosystem of your garden. If you have the space, it’s a good idea to grow a few more plants than you need, to accommodate your peckish visitors!
45. Help a tired bee
Bees are hard workers, and it’s not unusual to come across an exhausted bee on the ground in the garden. You can help out a tired bee by making a sugar solution from sugar and warm water, then putting it in a small saucer, bottle cap or spoon, and placing it near the bee’s head. The high-energy drink will soon perk it up so it can fly away.
46. Don’t use bug zappers
Bug zappers and bug lights may keep pesky insects at bay, but they can also kill harmless insects which would otherwise provide a source of food for birds, reptiles and bats. A good old citronella candle is a much more wildlife friendly alternative.
47. Get the neighbours involved
If you and your neighbours work together to help local wildlife, you can have a bigger impact. You could suggest creating a hedgehog highway between all your gardens, organise a plants for pollinators plant swap, or simply pick each other’s brains for tips on gardening for wildlife.
48. Help injured wildlife
If you spot a wild animal behaving unusually in your garden, it can be tricky to work out whether it needs your help. This guide will help you work out whether to intervene, and RSPCA has links to wildlife rehabilitators here.
49. Get inspiration online
Lots of wildlife conservation charities regularly share tips and ideas for wildlife gardening on their websites and social media channels. I’d recommend the Wildlife Trusts and RSPB to get you started. The Wildlife Trusts also runs the fab 30 Days Wild challenge every June which is a great source of inspiration. If you’re based in America, the National Wildlife Federation has lots of resources to help you garden for wildlife, and they also run Garden for Wildlife Month.
50. Take part in wildlife surveys
Joining in with a wildlife survey is an easy way to help wildlife conservation charities monitor native species and understand the impact of things like reduced natural habitats and pollution. It’s also a great opportunity to observe and appreciate all the amazing creatures that visit your garden. If you really enjoy doing this you could invest in a *wildlife camera. The Big Garden Birdwatch, Big Butterfly Count, Blooms for Bees and The Big Hedgehog Map are all great options – and they’re ideal wildlife garden activities for kids too.
More resources to help you garden for wildlife
I hope this list has given you lots of ideas for ways to make your garden a haven for wildlife. If you’d like even more inspiration on easy ways to help wildlife in your garden, here are some extra garden for wildlife resources you can check out.
There are also some fantastic wildlife activity sheets available from the Wildlife Trusts which are perfect for getting the kids involved.
Gardener’s World have a series of videos on creating gardens for wildlife from scratch here.
If podcasts are your thing, The Wildlife Garden Podcast shares wildlife garden ideas and advice every fortnight.
You might also like to check out my Wildlife Gardening Pinterest board.
Has this list of ideas on how to garden for wildlife inspired you to make some changes in your own garden? Let me know in the comments 🙂
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