It’s National Nestbox Week and at last – an element of consensus among the 3Growbags! We all three love giving wildlife a home in our gardens, and early spring is THE time to start a campaign to encourage more to move in.
So this week we’re proposing practical things you can put in place now to encourage our native birds, mammals, reptiles, bees and butterflies to consider your garden their home (and we have a few new products in our on-line shop which may help with this!)
Nestboxes. I don’t know about you but I am overcome with a sense of joy every time a spot a bird building a nest or feeding its young in our garden.
I feel honoured that a bird has considered our humble patch a suitable habitat for raising its little family.
Blackbirds love our hedges, robins love our garden shed and swallows love our open garage. But the species we don’t seem to have suitable existing niches for are tits. These would choose cavities in mature trees in the wild – not a common site in most gardens. And this is where a nestbox or two can really be a game-changer.
Positioned in an open but sheltered site, out of the glare of the midday sun and about 2 metres off the ground, it’s amazing how quickly a newly installed tit box will entice in these inquisitive little birds. The diameter of the entrance hole will dictate which species of tit is most attracted to use the box. The silhouette nest box we have recently started stocking in our shop is designed for the smaller blue tits, coal tits or if you’re really lucky and live near a wetland, marsh tits.
There are many other styles of nestboxes, designed for different bird species, and I have put a link at the end to the National Nestbox Week website where there is some excellent information and resources to help you decide which ones might suit your situation. Just a word of warning, you may not get exactly what you bargained for! Our row of house martin boxes has been completely overrun by a colony of house sparrows …
And for the last two years the rangers checking our barn owl box have been discovering families of stock doves in there instead.
Water. Literally any kind of water, from a margarine tub as a birdbath on your windowsill to a 7-acre lake. When we moved to our present garden 27 years ago, there was an ancient pre-formed plastic ‘baby-bath’ garden pool in one corner, full of mud and gunk. We wanted to dig a new and larger pond in the same place, so we moved all the contents of the baby-bath to a wheelbarrow for temporary safekeeping. And it included 37 frogs – 37!
As is often the case, the tattier the pond, the more life it will support. Dragonfly larvae, newts, water-boatmen etc. etc. all prefer reedy, messy margins and masses of weed to reproduce happily, and the more of the little water critters you have, the more your water feature will attract the big ones – birds, grass snakes, mammals ……… Water will draw a great many creatures not all of them desirable, but at least the mosquitoes can provide food for the swallows so everyone is quids in.
Nectar-rich plants. Apparently insect pollinators are responsible for one in three of every mouthfuls of food we eat. So plant as many nectar-rich plants as you can. Prairie plants and late summer perennials such as veronicastrums , echinaceas (and persicarias all virtually throb with bee activity) – all are wonderful for this. I’ve also found these especially popular in my garden : Eryngium (sea holly), Echinops (globe thistle), Hibiscus, Phlox, Aster, Eupatorium (Joe-Pye weed), Verbena bonariensis, Cosmos, Nepeta (catmint) as well as the more obvious Buddleia and Hyelotelephium (Sedum, as was). Single flowers are better than doubles.
Do you have a bee brick in your walls or a bee hotel in your garden? These provide important little safe ‘holes’ for solitary bees. It’s ridiculously satisfying seeing the cavities plugged in by new hotel guests and a wonderfully visible project to share with the young conservationists in your family. We sold out in our shop but as of yesterday…they’re back!
Long Grass. Now, come on, do you HAVE to have that perfect British lawn treated to within an inch of its life with lawn-feeds, weedkillers, land-drains, aeration, scarification, ambition, distraction, uglification and derision (as the Mock Turtle would say…….)? Or, if you are screaming YES at me, could you bear to leave just a small area unmowed for the summer?
Just try leaving a grass patch or two to grow long and cut it down in August. And if some dandelions and oxeye daisies take advantage – lovely! Grasshoppers, beetles, hoverflies, etc. will be waving their tiny legs in thanks. And your children can tick a few more boxes in their minibeast project.
Gardening without chemicals. I’ll be honest it was a wrench to part with the slug pellets and bug sprays but I’m there now. Not that the battle with whitefly, blackfly, slugs and snails doesn’t continue, it’s just got more innovative. Cut-off juice bottles (collars for sweet pea seedlings) and soapy water (for spraying aphids) are in my daytime arsenal, while after dark, picking slugs off my beans wearing a headtorch and Marigolds (can’t actually touch a slug), I am 100% safe from attackers according to my husband.
Hedges. Hedges are much better for wildlife than fences or walls. Apart from the nosh they provide – flowers, nuts and berries – they allow hedgehogs etc to scuttle along them safely and move in between gardens. You’ve still got time to order bare-rooted hedging (much cheaper than buying them potted in summer), but if you are bounded by walls or fences, creating a little hole framed with a clearly defined ‘hedgehog gate’ is proven to be a great asset – particularly if you can get everyone in your street to do the same. Go on, start a Mrs Tiggywinkle campaign at your Coronation Street Party this year! You’ll find hedgehog gates at the wildlife stock link at the end.
Shelter. One of my favourite sayings is ‘Never underestimate the value of doing nothing’. It gives virtue to being a slob (tick) and now it’s totally on trend for the environment.
Our insects and beetles love a bit of tumble-down something to rest and shelter in. Good news for me as neglected piles of leaves or general garden detritus can be legitimately re-branded as ‘habitat’ and I can expect nods of approval from my sisters instead of the familiar mini-lecture on ‘upping my game’. Truly, fellow slovens, conservation is our friend!
If you’d like to take a look at how the3Growbags approached wildlife in their childhood , do enjoy this piece that we wrote back in 2017.
Here is Laura describing the features of the new nestboxes, beehouses and hedgehog gates. You’ll find them all for sale here:
And this is the link to the National Nestbox Week website.
Meanwhile Louise is still finding beauty in the frosty mornings we’re getting, as exemplified in her Plant of the Month below.
More NB If you’re not already a subscriber and you’d like a bit more gardening chitchat from the3growbags, please type your email address here and we’ll send you a new post every Saturday morning.
9 replies on “Action stations: Give wildlife a home in your garden”
Hello ladies, I made a tit nest box a couple of years ago, which I attached to my north facing wall. It was sheer delight watching the parents dart in and out preparing the nest and feeding their young .. but … last summer, the wasps decided to utilize the box as their nest. I waited for the last to leave in autumn, took the box down, carefully opened it and there was the most amazing structure. It completely filled every corner. Sadly, I didn’t want them to return this year. Any ideas where I can site a box-or two, to avoid this repeat ‘occupation’?
Hello Scott it’s a problem isn’t it? We had a hornets nest in one of ours. I think you definitely need to move it to a new site so the overwintering queen doesn’t remember it and return for a second year. The general recommendation for a tit box is to have them facing north, east or west in a fairly open site where the birds have a fairly unencumbered flight path in. Our blue tits seem to be prospecting already so I would be trying to move it as quickly as possible so the blue tits stake a claim before the wasps are fully awake. On our morning walk today we saw a pair of stock doves emerging from our barn owl box so we’ve clearly lost that little battle again !
Hope this is helpful and best wishes Laura
Thank you Laura, dear mother nature goes her own way. I’ll see what I can work out. Wasps are in fact nested in my front hedge last summer, having moved along from my neighbour’s hedge the year before. There was strong objection from some neighbours; others were ok about it – which I also was. Sure I got stung a couple of times … but I lived!
Nest boxes are great for the garden – we put one up last year and when we went outside to see if it was being checked out yet, it had already a blue tit pair! Second one up a couple of weeks ago and already great interest taken. Solitary bee house had three occupants last summer – this year I will make sure there is a muddy tray left out, as bees can use mud to seal them, so hopefully more guests this year! Now I am planning on making earwig houses (really), so they can hoover up aphids. Love my garden neighbours ❤️
Interesting Lisa, I think I’ll try a bee house this year – including a mud tray. Thank you
PS. There is a ‘bug hotel’ in the local park with the a sign attached with a “vacances” sign outside. Most amusing : )
Lisa that sounds fantastic. Getting involved in wildlife habitat is such a rewarding addition to the joy of gardening isn’t it, and your post really encapsulates that. Great tip about the mud tray. I find it quite humbling seeing wasps painstakingly scraping wood fibres from our greenhouse windows to make their incredible nests. Off to look up earwig houses now! Very best wishes to you X
Joy! Blue tits nested 1st year I put the box up ….but…..should I open it and give it a spring clean? If so with what?
Hello Janet, it’s so satisfying when a pair of birds repays your effort in putting up a nestbox isn’t it.
The RSPB recommend cleaning your next box out between October and January by taking it down from the tree, removing the old nest then pouring scalding water into the empty box and letting it dry before replacing it. So if you were going to do it this year it probably needs doing today, as we are literally on the cusp of new occupants starting to move in. Otherwise you could give this year a miss and put a note in your calendar to do it in deepest winter next year. In my experience the blue tits do a fair bit of spring cleaning themselves before they start building a new nest.