With the days short and conditions often dank, the impetus to get into the garden can flag at this time of year, but there are a few little jobs that can be done in just 10 minutes or so each week which can help the garden and its wildlife.
Top of the list at this time of year is clearing the leaves as they fall. Of course, there is good reason (or you might call it a good excuse!) to leave them in places where they won't be a problem, as they will harbour all sorts of minibeasts under its duvet layers and will provide perfect 'flick and pick' for Blackbirds even in cold weather.
However, when leaves fall on a lawn, they can create a thick mat that kills off the grass beneath, and few of us want muddy patches in our turf come next spring. A wide rake makes short work of clearing them up, and does wonders for the tummy muscles into the bargain. Here I am working on my six-pack (I wish!).
Then the leaves can just be piled up in a corner of the garden or scattered under bushes. What you don't need to do is hoover them up and put them in the rubbish bin or even green bin - they are far too useful in the garden and should be seen as nature's free gifts. Who knows what garden wildlife you would be throwing away with them?! I've seen Speckled Wood butterfly chrysalises attached to dead leaves, and it is superb worm fodder.
Another place where fallen leaves can be a problem is in a pond. Once saturated, they will quickly release tannins that stain the water like tea, while rotting leaves can cause quite a stench and reduce the water quality and hence its suitability for life. So, although it is one of the colder jobs in the garden, I do pick out the majority of leaves from the surface. Of course, raking the leaves off nearby lawns reduces the number that blow in in the first place.
And of course the other job to get your garden firing on all cylinders for wildlife is to ensure your bird feeding areas are in order. With RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch 2020 only two months away, having your feeders clean and full from now on will mean your garden birds are fully accustomed to them by the time you do the count.
Where they are located really does matter. In my garden, for example, I have two identical Squirrel Buster Plus feeders (the best I've ever used - expensive but brilliant) filled with identical no-mess sunflower hearts, that I can watch from the lounge window. This one is slung from a Cornus kousa, an open tree that loses its leaves in winter and I can see the birds really well as they feed.
The other one, closer to the house, is rather hidden under the overhang of thick, evergreen Ivy (it may look like a tree, but it is actually a dead stump that I have allowed Ivy to clamber all over).
Which of the two do you think empties first? It is the latter, which goes down an astonishing four times quicker than the one in the open location. Greenfinches and House Sparrows will sit for several minutes at a time on the half-hidden feeder, chomping their way through industrial quantities of seed. On the feeder in the open, visits are much more fleeting.
However, that's not to say that the first feeder isn't useful. Because the larger birds aren't dominating it, it gives chance for the Great, Blue and Coal Tits to pop back and forth to it, their preferred feeding style, grabbing one seed at a time and taking it off into the bushes to nibble at it.
So now is a great time to experiment with your feeder locations and see if some work better than others. Moving feeders from time to time is recommended anyway, as a feeder in one place can risk a build up of nasties, especially on the ground beneath. And by the time we get to the last weekend in January, you should have the perfect set-up for a record Big Garden Birdwatch count.
Does the squirrel busting feeder work for feral pigeons and parakeets as well? I’ve had to reinforce my feeders, including those with guards to keep the food out of reach of the former especially.
Hi PhilippaS. The Squirrel Buster Plus is calibrated to close when something of 115g or more sits on the ports - Feral Pigeons weigh typically over 350g, but Parakeets are rather lightweight for their size at about 130g. However, the great thing with the feeder is that its sensitivity can be adjusted, so you can change it so the ports close at lower weights than 115g. (Or more for those who want to feed heavier birds.)
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