How to Create A Butterfly Garden
Butterflies are beautiful creatures. But they’re also an important part of the food chain. A range of birds, bats and insect-eating mammals all depend on butterflies and moths as a food source.
Why Create a Butterfly Garden?
Worryingly, three quarters of butterfly species across the UK are currently in decline. Habitats are being destroyed and weather patterns are changing, making their future uncertain. There’s never been a better time to welcome these amazing creatures into your garden.
How to Create a Butterfly Garden
Want to encourage butterflies to visit your garden? Here are a few key things you can do:
Create Butterfly Food
Butterflies like colourful, nectar-rich flowers. Clusters of short, tubular flowers or flat-topped blossoms provide a great landing and feeding spot for butterflies. Try to create a garden that flowers throughout the spring and summer, providing a constant food source for butterfly visitors.
Add Caterpillar Friendly Plants
You’re unlikely to see many butterflies in your garden unless you’re happy to welcome their offspring too. Caterpillars feed on nettles, thistles, grasses, holly and ivy – and female butterflies tend to lay their eggs on these plants. Include a few of them in your garden and let the grass grow a little longer in one patch of lawn.
Make Your Garden as Sunny as Possible
If your garden is very shady, you won’t attract many butterflies. Butterflies rely on the sun to raise their body temperature each morning, allowing them to fly and stay active. Try to create at least one sunny spot within your garden.
Put up a Butterfly Box
A butterfly box will provide a safe haven for your garden butterflies during cold and rainy summer days. Some butterflies also overwinter as adults and need a warm, dry place in which to hibernate. Place a butterfly box close to the shrubbery that would usually attract butterflies in need of shelter.
Pesticides can be extremely harmful to butterflies and other pollinating insects. Avoid using them near any flowering plants. And be careful not to introduce new plants into the garden unless you know that they are free from potential harmful chemicals. It may be worth growing your own from seed or seeking out an organic garden centre so you can be sure.
Creating food, shelter and warmth will make your garden very attractive to butterflies. Put in a little work and you’ll be able to admire your beautiful garden visitors throughout the spring and summer.
6 Best Garden-Friendly Insects
Gardeners often think of insects as unwelcome pests. When you spend lots of time caring for your plants, you don’t want them to be damaged by a hoard of ravenous bugs. But there are some six-legged creatures that help rather than hinder the growth of your garden.
Here are six of the best garden-friendly insects:
Hoverflies are often mistaken for wasps. They have a similar black and yellow colouring. But they don’t sting and they don’t have a bulgy abdomen and waspy waist. These flies feed on nectar and pollen so they help to pollinate your plants. Their larvae also feed on aphids and other garden pests.
Ground beetles love nothing better than feasting on some of our most troublesome garden pests – slugs and snails. And they like gardens where shady hidey holes are available during the day. So create a log or leaf pile or even a bug hotel to attract these helpful insects.
Parasitic wasps (which are all non-stinging) lay their eggs on or in other insects. The egg hatches and then eats the host alive before turning into an adult wasp. This is bad news for the caterpillars, ants and aphids that act as a host. But good news for your garden.
Butterflies and Moths
Butterfly and moth larvae will eat your plants. However, by growing a patch of long grass or giving over an ivy or holly plant to caterpillars, you can enjoy all of the benefits their parents bring to your garden. Butterflies and moths are excellent pollinators, helping your plants to reproduce year in, year out. A butterfly box gives them much-needed shelter on cold and rainy days.
Ladybirds are carnivorous. They feed on aphids and on red spider mites. A ladybird will lay its eggs in aphid colonies so its offspring have a ready source of food. When they hatch a single ladybird larvae can eat up to 5,000 aphids.
Lacewings are beautiful creatures. They have a small green body and huge, lace-like wings. Both adults and their larvae love to eat aphids and mites. A single lacewing larvae can eat up to 500 greenfly in the two weeks it takes to develop. Put up a lacewing box (that will also double as a ladybird box) to help these insects survive the winter.
Not all insects are a gardener’s enemy. Even the aphids we try so hard to get rid of provide a food source for the good bugs. And if you like the idea of cultivating a wildlife garden, you need to provide tasty treats for creatures at every stage of the food chain.
A Beginner’s Guide to Feeding Garden Birds
Whether you’d like to start feeding birds yourself or you’re looking for that perfect gift for a bird lover, it’s useful to know a few bird feeding basics. Here’s our beginner’s guide to feeding garden birds, covering all the kit you’ll need and a few top tips.
There’s really very little kit you need to start feeding your garden birds. A hanging bird feeder is sure to do the trick and will attract a wide range of birds. However, it’s worth bearing in mind that not all birds can use a hanging feeder. Some birds prefer to eat seed left on the ground or on a bird table instead. Use a few feeding methods if you want to attract a wide range of birds to your garden.
Every bird species has its own favourite food. If you’d like to attract a specific kind of bird to your garden, try to find out what they like to eat. Generally speaking, birds like to eat seeds and berries. During winter months, birds use a lot of energy staying warm so leaving out fattier food, like fat balls, is a good idea. There are also foods you should avoid, particularly during breeding season. Learn about foods that can be harmful to birds before deciding on what to provide.
Birds need water as well as food. To make your garden that bit more attractive to avian visitors, provide a source of clean water and regularly replenish it. This will allow birds to take a drink and maybe even a bath.
Bird Health and Safety
Predators pose a big threat to birds. Your bird feeders should be placed away from any cover that would prove useful to a pouncing cat. Bird infections can also be a problem. Any bird feeding kit should be thoroughly cleaned, once every six months or so, to help keep disease at bay.
When to Feed Birds
It’s important to feed birds in winter. Natural food sources can be scarce and birds often need a little helping hand to see them through the colder months. However, feeding birds all year round is recommended. Food shortages can occur at any time of year, putting bird numbers in danger. Provide a constant supply of food, adapting your bird feed with the seasons and helping your garden birds to thrive.
Now you know the basics, there’s no reason not to start feeding your garden birds today. Invest in a feeder and some seed and you’ll soon have a host of birds stopping by for some food.
How to Keep Your Garden Birds Healthy
When your garden is a bird haven offering plenty of food and water, you’re doing your garden birds a big favour. They can supplement their diet during summer months and find the food they so desperately need throughout winter. However, any place that many birds congregate is a place where avian disease can spread.
Here are some ways you can limit the spread of illness and keep your garden birds healthy:
Manage the Food Supply
If your bird food is sitting on the bird table uneaten for days on end, that’s plenty of time for it to become rotten or mouldy. Put out less food at a time to make sure everything is eaten when it’s at its best.
Don’t Leave Food on the Ground
Some birds don’t like to eat from a bird table or hanging feeder. But food left directly on the ground can attract vermin like rats. Rats carry diseases that can affect both birds and humans. To avoid this health risk, use a ground tray for your bird food. That way you can take it away at the end of the day and keep it properly clean.
Clean Bird Feeding Equipment
Bird feeders, tables, baths and nest boxes can harbour parasites that cause disease. Bird droppings can also breed harmful bacteria. You should regularly clean and disinfect all of your bird care equipment. Leave everything to dry fully before putting it back in your garden. When it comes to a nest box, you have to be sure that no nesting birds are currently in residence before removing and cleaning it.
Move Feeders and Tables
Bird droppings can accumulate underneath hanging bird feeders and bird tables. Regularly move them around your garden so you don’t end up with a large, bacteria-breeding collection of faeces in the one place.
Look out for Sick Birds
If you find a dead bird or notice a sick bird in your garden, stop putting out bird food immediately. Clean and disinfect all feeders, tables, bird baths and (if the season allows) nest boxes. Once you stop seeing dead or sick birds, you can put the clean equipment back into your garden. This will help to prevent the spread of disease to your other garden birds.
Maintaining good hygiene of your garden and bird care equipment is essential. By following a few simple rules, you can ensure the health and happiness of your avian garden guests.
You might also be interested in our post on Tips to attract more birds to your feeder or one on Endangered Garden Birds and what you can do to help.
How to Identify Wild Birds
You don’t have to know the names of the birds that visit your garden. Seeing them there can be enjoyment enough. However, knowing the names of the species you see gives you the opportunity to learn a little more about them. It can also help you to provide the food and habitats your feathered friends like best.
Here are some handy tips for identifying wild birds in your garden:
Note Down Characteristics
Birds aren’t likely to stay put whilst you give them a thorough examination. You need to make a note of key characteristics before a bird disappears from view. Size, shape and colouring are all important features that can help you to distinguish one bird from another. The shape of the bill and legs are particularly useful. Birds of prey have hooked bills whilst seed-eaters tend to have short, stout bills. And webbed feet is another big giveaway.
Search Online or in A Book
Nowadays, searching for a bird online is the easiest way to make an accurate identification. There are databases that allow you to type in the features you have recorded and find a shortlist of potential matches. But doing things the old-fashioned way still holds its charm. A good bird guide is an essential piece of kit for any would-be bird spotter.
Watch Out for Red Herrings
There are plenty of bird features that could lead to a misidentification. Here are some things to watch out for:
- Young or female birds sometimes have different colouring to male birds of the same species.
- It’s very difficult to make an accurate assessment of a bird’s size when it’s in the air.
- In cold weather birds can fluff out their feathers for warmth making them look very different to the standard images you’ll find online or in books.
- Captive birds sometimes escape. If you spot an exotic bird it could be that this isn’t something you usually find in the wild.
Being able to identify birds successfully is a learning process. The more birds you see and correctly identify, the easier it will be to identify future unknowns. You could visit a bird sanctuary or nature reserve to get to know different bird varieties. This will help with identification back at home in the garden.
Identifying the birds you see in your garden is a great activity to share with children. But it can be a fun undertaking whatever your age. With a few items of basic kit you could soon be recognising your birds and adapting your garden to better meet their needs.
Seven Amazing Facts about Hedgehogs
Hedgehogs are a relatively common sight in UK gardens. These nocturnal creatures are most often seen during summer months before hibernating in the autumn to escape the cold British winter. Boxwild sells a Hedgehog Gift Box which is ideal for those who love our treasured garden friends!
Whilst almost all of us have seen a hedgehog at some point or other, there are a few things we may not know about our spiky friends. Take a look at our seven amazing hedgehog facts to find out more:
- Hedgehogs have between 5000 and 7000 spines. Their spines are known as quills. Quills are mostly hollow and contain a complex network of air chambers, making them light and strong. Hedgehogs lose and regrow quills throughout their lifetime.
- Baby hedgehogs are called hoglets. They’re usually born in June and July in a litter of four to five. On average just two to three make it past the weaning stage. This can be even less if a hedgehog nest is disturbed soon after birth – in these situations a mother hedgehog may abandon the hoglets or even eat them.
- Hedgehogs are omnivores. They can eat a wide variety of foods but the majority of their diet is made up of insects. Slugs, beetles and caterpillars are all firm hedgehog favourites, earning them a reputation as a dedicated gardener’s friend.
- Milk is bad for hedgehogs. It’s a common misconception that milk provides a tasty treat for hedgehogs. It can actually give them diarrhoea. Plain, fresh water in a shallow bowl is best.
Some hedgehogs have fleas but they can’t be transferred to humans. These fleas are actually known as hedgehog fleas and won’t survive on people or other animals.
- It’s estimated that 30% of the hedgehog population has been lost since 2002. Poor habitats, in both rural and urban areas, as well as difficult weather conditions are to blame. Creating a garden habitat and leaving food out for hedgehogs, particularly over the summer, can be a great help. You’ll be providing them with the nutrients and fat stores they need to survive hibernation come the autumn.
- Cutting a hole in your garden fence could help a hedgehog. If everyone on your street does the same, you’ll create a “wildlife corridor” through which hedgehogs can search for food and water without venturing into more dangerous territory.
Hedgehogs are incredible animals but they do need a helping hand from time to time. If you can offer shelter, food, water and an easy through road in your garden, you’ll be providing a much needed lifeline to your local hedgehog population.
Read more about our prickly friends in our post on five garden hazards for hedgehogs