Now that our climate is cooler, and our nights are longer, your plants have reacted to a process called photoperiodism, where the shorter days and longer nights, signal preparations for a slow down period. Many living creatures in the garden slow down their body processes too. Snakes, lizards, frogs, toads, Millipede Assassin bugs and ladybugs and many other insects all slow down, so that no extra energy is used up.
Many animals will begin their search for a place to hibernate or just a cosy sheltered place to store food and build nests. Nature has incredible systems in place to aid in these endeavours, a deciduous tree will drop its leaves as its growth slows down , allowing the garden creatures to find shelter under the fallen leaves away from predators. Grasses, perennials and bulbs will have dying leaves that form a thick mat, creating warm shelters for wasps, caterpillars and butterflies. Certain species die off in winter leaving their eggs, larvae or pupae to hide away until the warm spring weather arrives, when they hatch to produce a new community who begin the process all over again. This is common in the wasp and spider families.
We challenge all gardeners, to live in harmony with nature this winter. Be attentive to this cycle of life and openly assist and encourage sheltered spots for creatures in your garden. Here are some practical ways you can do this:
- If you don’t already have a water feature, think about installing one now. Water supplies are difficult to find in the winter months and by offering this precious commodity, it will help the wildlife survive the season.
- Keep the dying and dead leaves of perennials and bulbs and grass stalks until the end of winter. Many creatures like spiders, wasps, butterflies etc, will live under the leaves and amongst the grass stalks. If you cut them down now, there will be no place for next season’s beneficial insects to live out the cold weather.
- Keep seed heads on plants as they are a source of food for many creatures.
- Have some casual rocks in the garden as they act as great hide outs from predators.
- Build a compost heap which is a warm and safe home for many larvae and insect eggs.
- Leave some pipe lengths in sheltered spots out of sight. There are many mammal species that would love a cosy ready made burrow to shelter in.
- Tie bird boxes into selected trees for birds to build homes in.
- Only sweep leaves off pathways and the driveway, gather these leaves up to be scattered on the surface of the soil in the garden beds to create leaf litter. This leaf litter is the compost that gets drawn into the soil by woodlice, earthworms and termites that then allow the soil fungi and bacteria to break down the leaves into the basic elements thus providing the essential nutrients that the plants require to grow.
- Allow leaf litter to collect where it falls – under the shrubs and trees it creates the best environment for ground feeding birds like robins, wagtails and thrushes to find food.
As we become sympathetic to nature and put some of these ideas into practice our gardens transform from two-dimensional to three-dimensional and then one can truly say your garden is so much more than meets the eye.