Gardening for wildlife

Everything we do within our gardens will either benefit or harm local wildlife. By considering this when we tend our gardens we can help to look after nature, combat climate change and protect wildlife.

By choosing the right plants for nectar and fruit, providing some shelter and safety and providing water, any garden can be bought to life as a place for wildlife to thrive. And this is true of any size space. You can help with gardening for wildlife in the smallest back yard or even a window box.

Wildlife gardens are good for wellbeing, bringing songbirds and bees and butterflies on a sunny day. Add a pond, even a small one, and you’ll have pond skaters, damselflies and frogs to watch and enjoy.

There is an important difference, however between relaxed wildlife gardening and untidy neglect. A good place to start is with an undisturbed corner of the garden left for long grass, nettles and decay, a stock of logs or a pile of autumn leaves behind a flower border.

Most importantly gardening with wildlife makes a positive difference to our planet. Below are some ideas to try at home.

Give your mower a rest

Mowing your lawn less and letting parts of it grow long, saves you time and helps give nature a home.

Why not leave your lawn to grow naturally for one month in May or June to give it chance to throw up some flowers for the insects?

Or perhaps allow an area of your lawn to grow naturally and be managed like a summer meadow. Leave it until August or September before mowing. If you mow a border around the long grass, or mow a path through the middle it can look really smart.

Try planting extra wild flower plug plants into the longer grass such as bird's-foot trefoil, black knapweed and field scabious. Or scatter some yellow rattle seed across the lawn in autumn.

Create a wildlife pond

Creating a wildlife pond only takes a weekend, yet can deliver results very quickly, attracting a host of wildlife visitors including frogs and toads, damselflies and dragonflies and birds.

Read more about how to build a pond from the Wildlife Trusts.

Plant a wildlife hedge

Hedges are excellent natural shelters. They can be a flourishing home and habitat for nature.

Some hedges provide food for birds and nectar for insects, most provide shelter for birds. Planting a mixed hedge is best for wildlife as it helps extend flowering or fruiting times. Good for wildlife include beech, Yew, Hawthrone, Pyracantha and Rosa rugosa.

You can find advice on garden hedges for wildlife on the RSPB’s website

It’s also really important to avoid trimming hedgerows between 1 March and 31 July, which is the main nesting season for birds. Find out more about protecting trees and hedgerows.

Build a bug hotel

Bug hotels can provide a safe hideaway for insects, bees and beetles, ladybirds, spiders woodlice and even toads and hedgehogs.

You can build one at any time of year and it provides the opportunity to get inventive and recycle things that are lying around including old pallets, planks of wood, bricks, garden canes, prunings, old roof tiles, moss, dry leaves, pine cones, logs, and whatever else you can find!

You can find advice on building a bug mansion on the Wildlife Trusts website.

Create a hedgehog highway

Hedgehogs are probably the UK’s most-loved garden visitor. Before a hedgehog goes into hibernation in late Autumn they need lots of food in order to store fat. You can help by providing a shallow dish of food and water for hogs in your garden. You can buy hedgehog food or use meat-based cat or dog food but don’t use bread or milk. Find out more about feeding hedgehogs from the British Hedgehog Preservation Society website.

If you see a hedgehog during the day and have doubts about its wellbeing contact Tiggywinkles or the British Hedgehog Preservation Society. Both websites have lots of information about helping hedgehogs in trouble.

You can find more tips for helping hedgehogs in your garden on the Tiggywinkles website.

Plants for bugs

The RHS Science project plants for bugs found that the best way to support invertebrates in gardens and promote a healthy ecosystem, is to choose plantings biased towards British native plants and encourage dense vegetation, while leaving some patches of bare soil.

Plants for bees and butterflies

Wild bees and other pollinators are in decline. One way gardeners can help is by planting garden flowers that provide forage for a wide variety of pollinating insects.

There are lots of great plants for bees and butterflies and here’s a list of some of the best known and easiest to grow:

  • buddleja
  • red valerian
  • verbena
  • sedum
  • hebe
  • lavender
  • foxgloves
  • flowering cherry and currant
  • hawthorne
  • honeysuckle
  • rosemary
  • hardy geranium
  • honesty
  • teasel
  • thyme
  • aster
  • ivy
  • cornflower
  • sunflowers
  • bluebells

Find more tips on gardening for wildlife on the RHS Wild about gardens website.

Use less plastic in your garden

Avoiding using single-use plastic wherever we can is a great idea. Here are six easy ways to reduce plastic use in your garden:

  • reuse plastic pots that you already have for as long as possible
  • buy plants grown in biodegradable pots and order bare root trees and shrubs in the autumn and winter
  • make your own pots for seedlings from newspaper, card, loo roll etc
  • take your own cuttings and divide plants rather than buying new ones and swap with friends and neighbours
  • use wooded trays and seed labels rather than plastic ones
  • make your own compost

Push for peat free

Gardeners, garden experts and environmental groups are trying to persuade more people to switch to peat-free garden composts.

Peat mostly comes from lowland peat bogs which are an increasingly rare habitat for flora and fauna and they are also really important carbon sinks. Destroying peat bogs for compost is bad for nature and bad for climate change.

Many bags of potting compost on sale in garden centres still contain at least some peat. Check the labels on the bags of compost carefully and always ask for peat-free.

If you have space, why not make a space for a compost heap and make your own growing media from well-rotted homemade compost mixed with leafmould and loam or sand. Find more tips on home composting and garden waste on our Reuse page.

Rainwater harvesting and rain garden ideas

As our climate continues to change, making best use of rainwater in our gardens is increasingly important. Think about introducing water butts, a large planter (dipping pond) a green roof for a shed or bin/log store or a border with plants that thrive in wet conditions.

Intercepting rainwater in downpipes leading to storage is the easiest way to help reduce flooding problems in gardens. You can buy all sorts of shapes and sizes of water butt and rainwater is much better for plants than watering with tap water.

A simple green roof using sedum plants is great for wildlife, looks great and helps reduce run off from the roof. If you connect a shed roof to a home-made stormwater planter it help support pollinators and increases plant diversity in your garden.

Read more about water collection, storage and reuse on the RHS website.

Community gardening

The RHS Greening Great Britain is a programme that supports community groups to transform unloved spaces. It you’re a local volunteer or community group with a greening project in mind we might be able to help with funding.