A well tended lawn, especially one that's mowed weekly and treated with weedkillers and synthetic fertilisers, doesn't make a good wildlife habitat. And yet its main ingredients – grass and wildflowers – are some of the best plants you can provide for wildlife in your garden. Allowed to grow long, grasses provide caterpillar foodplants for a number of butterflies and moths, while flowers such as clover, self heal and bird's foot trefoil provide essential nectar and pollen for pollinators.
And yet you don't have to let your lawn go wild, or even convert it into a meadow, to make it more wildlife friendly. There are several ways you can make your lawn more wildlife friendly while keeping a mown lawn, simply by tweaking the way you manage it.
Five ways to make your lawn more wildlife friendly
Mow your lawn less often
Unless you regularly apply weedkiller, your lawn should have a fantastic diversity of wildflowers (sadly often considered 'weeds'), including clover, self heal, bird's foot trefoil and dandelions. But these are rarely allowed to flower in lawns mowed regularly.
However, by changing your mowing schedule to every three to four weeks instead of weekly, you can let these plants grow and flower between mows. You'll still have a lawn, it will just be more colourful at certain times, and the bees, butterflies and other pollinators will be grateful for the extra food source.
Let areas grow longer
When you first lay your lawn turf, the grass will usually be a mix of hard-wearing rye grass and fescues. However, as it matures, native grasses such as meadow grass, Yorkshire fog and Timothy grass will seed into it. These are caterpillar foodplants for a number of butterflies, including the meadow brown and gatekeeper. If you allow areas of grass to grow long, they may provide these pollinator with much needed breeding habitat.
What's more, areas of long grass provide seeds for bird such as house sparrow and goldfinch, and can provide shelter for small mammals such as hedgehogs and voles. Long grass needn't look unattractive – why not leave a circle of grass to grow long around a tree, or create a meadow area that you can strim paths into? You could also let grass grow longer in areas you don't see from the house, such as behind your shed.
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Ditch the weedkiller
Not only do lawn weedkillers kill the pollen- and nectar-rich wildflowers growing in your lawn, they also contaminate the soil in and around it. Some weedkillers can stay active in the soil for up to a year after application. More studies are needed on the effects of these chemicals, but without fully knowing what happens to soil bacteria, worms and other soil invertebrates (that so much other wildlife depends on), you might wish to err on the side of caution.
Hand weed if you must, but allowing a diverse range of plants to flourish in your lawn is the most wildlife-friendly option.
Compost lawn clippings
These days, many of us add garden waste to a green bin, which is collected by the local council for municipal composting. However, this denies wildlife a valuable habitat. You don't need a fancy compost bin to compost garden waste – indeed an open heap is all the better. Simply pile lawn clippings with other garden waste in a quiet corner of the garden. You'll provide a home for anything from hedgehogs and slow worms, to bumblebees.
Keep areas short
While most wildlife benefits from longer grass, some species do best in short-cut lawns, so keeping an area of the lawn closely clipped can be a very good thing. Mining bees such as the spring-flying tawny mining bee and the autumn flying ivy bee, nest in areas of bare ground and closely clipped lawns in sunshine. For the most wildlife-friendly lawn, it's best to have a mix of lengths, so the widest variety of species possible can use it. consider short and medium length areas, with patches of longer grass elsewhere.