What to do for wildlife in your garden in February

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It’s not hard to give the wildlife in your garden an extra helping hand at this time of year, says Mitch Perkins, DWT’s wilder communities assistant

Dunnock singing in the late winter sunshine

With the year well under way, things are starting to ‘move’ in the garden. Bulbs are popping up and bird song is increasing as the birds vie for the best nesting territory. On clear days, try listening out for some of our resident songsters. If you are interested in learning a few bird calls, this is an excellent time to ‘get your ear in’ before the summer migrants arrive!

Dorset snowdrops
Image: Mark Heighes

Weed out the knobbly bulbils
On mild days you might also hear (and see) signs of amphibian activity. Newts are starting to come out of hibernation and if you have a pond of any size, you could already have frog spawn – warmer winters mean that frogs are sometimes spawning earlier than in previous years.
Hungry insects are starting to emerge from hibernation and need an energy boost from the nectar and pollen provided by early-flowering plants. Could you help by growing a late winter larder for insects?
Take action for insects and consider planting shrubs like sweet box or winter flowering heathers – either can be grown in a pot. Also, think again about early flowering ‘weeds’ – the cheery yellow flowers of lesser celandine are a good nectar source. This useful native can be kept in check by lightly weeding out the knobbly bulbils. Crocuses are also a good early source of food for insects and, if you have a sunny patch of lawn, purple crocus tommasinianus is a good variety to naturalise. Later in the month, look out for the first red-tailed queen bumble bees and peacock butterflies enjoying your wildlife-friendly plants.

If you have a pond in your garden, modern warmer winters might mean you’ve already got frog spawn
Image: Richard Burkmar

Share the bulbs
As snowdrops finish flowering, it is a good time to split and move them – these bulbs establish best if planted ‘in the green.’ Share them with friends and just remember to plant them to the same depth as they were in their original spot. Water well, remove old flower heads and let the leaves die back naturally for strong plants next year.
If the soil isn’t waterlogged or frozen, you can plant bare root trees and shrubs now to provide shelter and food for birds. Guelder rose, mountain ash or juneberry (Amelanchier) are all good trees for small gardens. Some crab apples (Malus ‘Laura’) and fruit trees (try ‘Conference’ pears, ‘Discovery’ apples) can even be grown in pots.
At the end of this month, cut back the old flower stems of perennial plants (sedum, golden rod, teasels). It is much better to do this now than in the autumn, as insects will have been able to shelter over winter in the nooks and crannies that seed heads and hollow stems provide. Leave the bundles of stems in a quiet corner to give insects time to find a new home. These will be picked over by birds looking for a tasty snack – and the plant debris may become nesting material.

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