The good thing for all of us who love the wildlife in our gardens is that our interest in the world outside the window doesn't fade with the flowers. Instead, we can look forward to winter in the garden, for it will be enlivened by all the birds that will visit.
So what can you do to prepare the garden for a wildlife-filled winter? Here are my five top tips:
1) Leave flower stems standing. It is so rewarding to see birds feeding at the seedheads, and you might be interested in my blog last week in which I recommend some of the best plants for seeds, and the benefit of growing them en masse. But if you have got some stems that have flopped, why not take inspiration from Anne-Marie Morris, whose garden I featured in the autumn 2018 RSPB Nature's Home magazine. She harvests many of the spent stems, bundles them up, and hangs them outside her house. Some insects will survive in there until next winter; some will be winkled out by tits. And they look grrrreat.
2) Decide now where another tree or shrub might go. Plants are the bedrock of wildlife-friendly gardening, and big plants do big things for nature. Winter is the best time to plant a deciduous tree or bush, because they will be dormant and also because many can be bought very cheaply as bare-rooted plants. But it is now, with many of the leaves still on the trees, that you can judge how it will look once it is in place. Wait until midwinter to decide and you will be basing your decision on a view full of winter's bare limbs. So get out now, have a good think, decide where a tree might go (it need only be a small one) and put planting it on your 'must do' list for this winter.
3) Collect up leaves - and then use them. Fallen leaves are gold-dust, and when I see them lying on the grass I think of them as a gift, not a chore. I gather them into my leafmould bin (below, which is a ramshackle affair but does the trick), where over a couple of years they rot down into a beautiful, earthy, smell-free mix. Leaf mould is very different to compost: it is low in nutrients, because the trees eagerly suck out the goodness from their leaves before shedding them. Fallen leaves are just shells of lignin and cellulose, and they decompose slowly through fungal action with the help of all sorts of invertebrates. Two years later, without any effort on your part, nature turns it into something that can either be used as a mulch underneath trees and bushes, or even better is a great seed compost when sieved.
4) Take hardwood cuttings of shrubs, such as roses. It is so easy to do - just a 20cm (8 inch) length of pencil-thick stem, cut just under and just above a leaf node, and plunged into gritty compost or even the ground. Then leave it outside and let nature work its magic.
5) Ensure your feeding station would pass its hygiene inspection. Dirty feeders can help spread infection through your birds, who will be all the more vulnerable because at our feeders and bird tables they come into close contact with lots of other birds at a time of year when they can be stressed. Pop on some marigolds and give dirty cleaners a full going over with a mild disinfectant solution and rinse well. And, remember, even as we enter December, many birds will still be finding plenty of natural food to keep them going, so don't worry if your feeders and bird tables still feel rather abandoned. The birds' needs will only increase as winter progresses - by the time of the Big Garden Birdwatch at the end of January, they should be flocking to you.
For more garden advice see what our hints and tips for November’s wild garden.
We spend 90% of net income on conservation, public education and advocacy
The RSPB is a member of BirdLife International. Find out more about the partnership
© The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) is a registered charity: England and Wales no. 207076, Scotland no. SC037654