Wildlife Gardening - Insects, Amphibians and Reptiles
Created | Updated Sep 10, 2013
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Once the main parts of the garden are designed and built, the wildlife will begin to appear. It can be encouraged in many different ways.
Insects are the 'middle man' in the garden. They eat the plants, and in turn are eaten by just about everything, including each other. Many plants also depend on them for pollination.
As butterflies are very mobile, it won't take long for them to appear in any garden. Planting a border with plants that they can eat, and having plants suitable for egg-laying and caterpillar food in the same garden will keep them there. As the different species are around at different times from early spring to late autumn, a variety of plants should be grown to cover these times. As they need nectar-rich plants in their adult lives, a border will need to have a large enough display to be visible, and to have a strong enough scent to attract them. It should also be in full sun, as they need warmth and shelter.
Although butterflies do not normally breed in gardens, it is worth making an effort to try to tempt them. This is where the gardener and the wildlife gardener part company, as the best caterpillar food plant is the stinging nettle. Usually classed as a weed, it is hugely useful for butterflies to lay their eggs on, especially when grown next to a wall or fence. As they spread it's a good idea to keep them separate from the rest of the garden, and cut down all or part of it in early July to make sure there is plenty of new growth for the next generation.
Moths - Being nocturnal, moths are hardly seen in the garden, but they are drawn to many of the same plants as butterflies. Any light-coloured, night-scented plant will also attract them.
These are an ideal addition to any garden, as their larvae will eat hundreds of aphids each. The females will lay their eggs on aphid colonies to ensure a good supply of food for their young, who will hunt out the aphids by smell. Many vegetable gardens have plants that these insects like among their vegetables for this reason. They like a great variety of flowers, but flat-topped or broad flowers are preferred.
A lot of solitary insects need holes for their nests, and to lay their eggs in. They can be catered for by building a box similar to a bird table, and filling it with hollow straws and canes of all sizes, not forgetting to drill holes in posts and masonry. They will soon be used by insects such as solitary bees and wasps and ladybirds.
Dead wood also makes a good home. If there is a log pile in the garden it will be home to many different species, mostly in the larval stage. As dead wood is often removed, it is very important in the garden, as it can take several years for the larvae to grow to adulthood. The larvae are often picky in their choice of dead wood, but providing a few logs from a few different trees will help. Treated wood will not feed anything. Although it is difficult to see any of the life in a wood pile, it will be there in one form or another.
Frogs, toads and newts all need water to breed in and like to stay near to it all through the year. A garden that has a pond and is full of insects and other invertebrate life will no doubt see some form of amphibian life. Artificial sites can be built for them to hibernate in: an old paving stone with a small hole in the earth underneath it and a tunnel leading to the outside is an ideal hibernation spot. If they are surrounded by damp grassland they are certain to be used. Flower pots laying down might also be used, terracotta ones with chips in the rim can be turned upside down as long as there is room for the animal to enter.
Young amphibians leaving a pond will need plenty of grass and other plants for them to hide in. If this sort of cover is supplied near to the pond, they stand a much better chance of survival.
Reptiles are a lot harder to attract, although the most likely visitor will be the slow worm1, or grass snake. They like dry places with plenty of sunshine on bare areas with plenty of hiding places and vegetation. A sheet of corrugated iron in grass away from the house will attract them, and provide a home for small mammals and invertebrates.
Leaving a compost heap undisturbed for the second half of summer will also provide a home for grass snakes to lay their eggs in. The young will emerge in August or September.
Rockeries or banks with tunnels built in might encourage the common lizard. The easiest way to create these tunnels is to insert short lengths of pipe in a rockery or bank when it is being built, and then remove them later.