Your August wildlife gardening jobs
Want to make your garden a magnet for wildlife? We share the plants to grow and species to look out for now
Our gardens enter a late-summer lull in August as birds retreat to moult and some, like swifts, set off back to Africa. Late-blooming annuals and perennials take centre stage, providing nectar and pollen now many of the earlier flowers have gone over. Borders are still buzzing with bees and bats can be seen at dusk hunting for insects like midges and moths. There’s a relaxed beauty to the garden at the end of summer. Drink it all in this month before the year begins to turn.
More wildlife gardening advice
- Go wild in August
- August wildlife gardening with Monty
- What garden wildlife is doing now
- How to build a wildlife stack
Plants for wildlife
- Some of the best August pollinator plants are members of the daisy family from America, like cosmos, rudbeckia, helenium and echinacea. With their open, composite flowerheads, they attract a wide a range of butterflies, bees and hoverflies from late summer well into autumn.
- I love the glowing reds and oranges of Helenium ‘Moerheim Beauty’ and ‘Waltraut’ with its coppery tones. Rudbeckia fulgida ‘Goldsturm’ grows up to 60cm in height with a profusion of vivid yellow daisy-like flowers each with a dark centre, hence its common name: black-eyed Susan. If you don’t have room for larger perennials in your garden, why not try compact varieties like Rudbeckia hirta ‘Toto’ at 25cm; the ‘Apollo’ series of cosmos; or dwarf sunflowers like ‘Little Leo’ in containers? Though smaller in stature, they are no less attractive to us or to pollinating insects.
- For an eye-catching display, combine purple Salvia nemorosa (‘Caradonna’ is a favourite in my garden with the butterflies and bees) and asters such as ‘Mönch’ or ‘Veilchenkönigin’, with sunflowers and Cosmos sulphureus. And if you grow dahlias for a blast of late-season colour, stick to single-flowered varieties like the ‘Happy Single’ series. I love the long-lasting warm orange flowers and glorious bronze foliage of ‘Happy Single Date’.
- Honeysuckle creates a superb habitat for wildlife – ours is often busy with a noisy gang of house sparrows. And this spring, blackbirds and collared doves nested in the tangled stems and foliage. The sweet-scented flowers also attract pollinating insects like moths and long-tongued bumblebees, while later in the season the berries offer a feast for song thrushes, robins and other garden birds. Wild honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum) or its closely-related cultivar ‘Graham Thomas’ are both excellent choices for a wildlife-friendly garden.
- Late summer is the ideal time to take semi-ripe cuttings of climbers like honeysuckle and star jasmine. Mediterranean sub-shrubs such as rosemary, thyme, phlomis and lavender, with their nectar-rich flowers, can also be propagated in this way.
- By August, this season’s growth will have begun to harden so semi-ripe cuttings will be less prone to wilting, but tips should still be soft and cuttings should root quickly. When your cuttings have a healthy root system, they can be potted on and then planted out in the borders next year or given away to friends and neighbours.
How to take cuttings from honeysuckle
Best climbing plants for wildlife
Build a compost heap ready to start recycling your food and green waste. Aim to add an equal mix of green waste, like grass clippings which is full of nitrogen, and brown material such as cardboard, egg boxes and shredded woody stems that add carbon.
Compost heaps create amazing habitats for a huge diversity of wildlife. Avoid turning your compost too often, so you don’t disturb the biodiverse ecosystem you’ve created. If you create the heap in the next few weeks, the best time to turn it is in early spring, once hibernation is over for animals like hedgehogs and before the breeding season gets underway.
- Many garden birds will have begun their annual moult, now that the breeding season is over. This process involves replacing most, if not all, of their feathers and requires a great deal of energy. So keep feeders topped up with high protein foods like sunflower hearts, mealworms and soft pears, apples and bananas cut in half. Avoid fatty foods and fat balls as they tend to melt and go rancid in hot weather. Remember to top up bird baths, so that birds and other animals have access to water.
- Using a physical barrier like insect-proof mesh helps protect your brassicas from caterpillars, but make sure the edges are buried beneath the ground to avoid birds and other animals getting tangled up, and check it on a daily basis. We tend to leave a few sacrificial plants for butterflies to lay their eggs on, as my kids really enjoy watching the very hungry caterpillars as they grow. Both large and small white caterpillars feed on nasturtiums – another member of the brassica family – so if you find any unwanted crawlers on your cabbages you could transfer them to your nasturtiums instead.
- Green-veined whites are a delightful garden visitor, though they can easily be mistaken for other whites until they land. We often see these striking butterflies, with their dusty yellow underwings laced with charcoal streaks, fluttering around our wild patch. Like the orange tip butterfly, they lay their eggs on a number of wild brassicas, including hedge mustard, cuckooflower and garlic mustard. So by adding some of these important food plants to the borders, you’ll attract a wider range of butterflies.
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Creating and maintaining habitats
- Cold-blooded reptiles, amphibians and insects seek out sunny places in the garden on warm summer days. You might see them basking on rockery stones, log piles, limestone banks or even dry-stone walls. It’s really straightforward to build a wildlife rock basking area and only requires old bricks and rockery stones, along with gravel and nectar-rich plants like maiden pinks, rock-rose and thrift.
- If you’re lucky, this month, common lizards (Zootoca vivipara) might visit your wildlife area to bask. These lizards give birth to live young in summer and feed on small invertebrates, so it’s important to provide areas of long grass for them to hunt in. It’s been several years since I’ve seen them around my garden, but I’m still hopeful that one summer afternoon I might come across one of these elusive reptiles sunning itself on the rock pile beside our tiny pond.
- Late summer is a great time to take stock of the trees and shrubs in your garden and order any new plants for autumn. Trees in containers can be planted from October onwards and bare-rooted specimens from late autumn to early spring. If you have space, consider planting a wildlife-friendly tree like hawthorn or silver birch, which supports over 300 species of insect and other invertebrates. Keep an eye out for iron prominent moth caterpillars (my children think they look like little green dragons) feeding on the leaves and the astonishing buff-tip moth, which does an uncanny impression of a silver birch twig.
How to make a wildlife basking area
Leave some areas of grass long throughout the summer to reduce your mowing costs, and create a habitat for wildlife like small mammals, frogs and beetles.
Before you mow in September, walk through the area to disperse and check for any sheltering animals. Don’t forget to gather the grass and compost it, or use it to create habitat piles in a sheltered spot. If possible, leave some areas uncut until next March to provide shelter for wildlife. Undisturbed grassy areas also enable any insect eggs or pupae to overwinter and emerge in spring, to provide food for birds and other animals.
Look out for… beetles in the garden
- When we plant for pollinators, we often focus on bees, butterflies and hoverflies, but many moths, flies, wasps and beetles are important pollinators, too. There are over 4,000 beetle species in the UK of which around a quarter are pollinators. Some beetles also eat aphids, vine weevil larvae and slugs, while others feed on decaying wood and other organic debris. Although a few might nibble our plants, the majority don’t cause any damage and they are an important part of a healthy ecosystem.
- The best ways to attract a range of these fascinating and often very beautiful insects into the garden include making a pond, creating mini-habitats like dead log piles, leaving dead plant stems standing over winter and avoiding the use of pesticides.
- My heart always lifts when I see the first thick-legged flower beetle (Oedemera nobilis) of the year. Also known as the swollen-thighed beetle or false oil beetle, you can see this metallic-green iridescent stunner between April and September. Adult males are easy to spot with their swollen hind legs. Both males and females feed on a wide variety of plants, especially those with open flowers including cow parsley, brambles and, in my garden, the buttercups in the lawn.
- The common red soldier beetle (Rhagonycha fulva) eats aphids and its larvae feast on invertebrates like slugs and snails, so it’s a welcome garden visitor. Like the thick-legged flower beetle, it feeds on open flowers, and pairs can often be seen mating on umbellifers such as hogweed. Look out for this attractive orangey-red beetle with its relatively long antennae in meadows and gardens throughout the summer.
- It’s worth checking out garden ponds for aquatic beetles like the great diving beetle (Dytiscus marginalis). These carnivorous pond dwellers hibernate in the silt and hunt a wide range of pond life like tadpoles and even small fish. They fly at night, looking for places to establish new colonies. So even if your pond doesn’t host them this summer, it’s possible that you might spot a great diving beetle rising from the depths in years to come.
Five habitats to make for beetles
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