October is a significant month for wildlife. For mammals, amphibians and birds, there’s less invertebrate food around, as snails, caterpillars and other critters hunker down for winter. This means they spend more energy looking for food, just when they need it the most.
Hedgehogs are fattening up ahead of going into hibernation – they need to be large enough to survive several months without food, so leaving meat-based cat or dog food out for them can make all the difference. Birds don’t hibernate, so need to consume enough calories per day to survive each night. Most reptiles will already have entered hibernation, while frogs, toads and newts will be well on their way.
Some species of bee and butterfly may still be on the wing, emerging on sunny days to feed from late-summer flowers. Providing food is therefore a key October job.
Elsewhere in the garden we should be creating habitats for hibernating wildlife, and leaving areas alone to avoid disturbing anything. Think of your garden as not belonging to you for the next few months – take a back seat and leave the tidying until spring. The wildlife needs it now.
Browse our list of wildlife gardening jobs for October, below.
Leave windfall apples where they land
Migrant birds such as redwings and fieldfares flock to gardens in bad weather and feast on windfall fruit. So don’t clear it away, leave it in place . Late-flying butterflies and other insects may also feed from them when sources of nectar have dried up.
Make habitat piles
Hibernating wildlife typically needs somewhere dry and undisturbed to bed down for the winter. Creating habitat piles from logs, twigs and other garden debris can provide the perfect spot for them. Choose an out-of-the-way corner that you won’t disturb, and build your pile, starting with the largest items. Damper areas at the bottom will attract hibernating amphibians, while drier areas will support insects and small mammals.
Provide calorie-rich food for birds
We should feed the birds all year round, but in winter garden birds need extra calories, to provide them with the energy they need to survive the cold nights. Choose calorie-rich peanuts, sunflower hearts and suet products, and keep the feeders topped up as the birds will come to rely on them.
Plant bare-root plants
Now’s the perfect time to increase your stock of wildlife-friendly trees and shrubs by planting bare-root plants. Choose berry-bearing holly, guelder rose, rowan and hawthorn, or invertebrate favourites such as birch and hazel. You’ll provide a lasting source of habitat and food for a range of species.
Plant spring-flowering bulbs
Don’t forget to plan ahead for spring. Bumblebees hibernate for up to seven months, and are only a few hours away from starvation when they emerge from hibernation. Planting nectar-rich bulbs now will ensure there’s plenty of food for bees when they wake up. Choose crocus, snake’s head fritillary and grape hyacinths, for a bee-friendly feast.
Leave out chicken-flavoured cat or dog food, or bespoke hedgehog biscuits, for hedgehogs until it’s no longer taken. Don’t forget to leave out a dish of water as well. Remember to call your local hedgehog rescue if you see a hedgehog out during the day – it could be very ill or not weigh enough to survive hibernation.
Take down your bee hotel
Leaving your bee hotel up during winter can expose it to damp conditions, which could put the overwintering bees at risk of succumbing to fungal infections. Take it down and pop it in your shed, instead, where it can remain dry. Don’t bring it into the house as conditions will be too warm and the bees might emerge early from their cocoons. Don’t forget to pop the bee hotel back up in March.
It’s illegal to disturb nesting birds in spring but, while they won’t start nesting until April or May, some species establish breeding territories as early as January. Trimming hedges now will therefore ensure minimal disturbance.
Best plants for a wildlife hedge. Why not check out our test of the best 15 hedge trimmers to buy in 2021, or if you prefer to do things by hand, find out which of the hedge shears came out on top in our test of the best garden shears.
Plant winter clematis
Winter-flowering plants such as Clematis ‘Freckles’ and winter honeysuckle, can bridge the nectar gap between autumn and spring. Bees that emerge early from hibernation on sunny days are in danger of dying if they don’t find a source of food quickly, so by providing a constant source of nectar in your garden you can help them on their way.
Mulch your borders
You might not think that mulching helps wildlife, but by collecting leaves each autumn and then using them to mulch your borders the following year, you are replicating the natural cycles of death and regeneration you would find on the woodland floor. Leaf mould is a fantastic resource that will increase worm activity in the soil, as well as provide habitats for critters such as centipedes and beetles to hide. Birds, too, will pick among the debris for a feast.