Your July 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 are teeming with life in July. Butterflies and bees are busy in the borders, dragonflies patrol the ponds and bats are out hunting on long summer evenings. It’s the perfect month to let nature take its course, while you relax and enjoy time in your wildlife haven.
Avoid trimming hedges as birds might still be nesting. Leave seedheads to develop to provide a late summer feast for the birds and let plants like nettles, ivy and dandelions grow to feed a range of caterpillars. A sunny patch of nettles at the back of the garden could host the larvae of small tortoiseshell, comma and peacock butterflies, and angle shades and burnished brass moth caterpillars.
More wildlife gardening advice
- Go wild in July
- July wildlife gardening with Monty
- Wildlife gardening
- Key features of a wildlife garden
- How to create a wildlife garden
- How to make a bee-friendly garden
- Attract birds to your garden
Plants for wildlife
- Foxgloves sown now will produce nectar-rich blooms next spring and summer. This stately cottage-garden favourite is an important food plant of moth caterpillars like the frosted orange (Gortyna flavago), lesser yellow underwing (Noctua comes) and foxglove pug (Eupithecia pulchellata). The tubular flowers attract long-tongued bees such as the garden bumblebee (Bombus hortorum) and common carder bumblebee (Bombus lucorum).
- Our native foxglove (Digitalis purpurea), with its pale purple flowers with spotted throats, is the best choice for wildlife as some cultivated varieties may produce less nectar. Scatter seed outside in weed-free soil, ideally in dappled shade. Alternatively, sow undercover in summer, in moist peat-free seed compost and plant out in autumn. Foxgloves are quick to naturalise and should self-seed freely around the borders, providing plenty of pollinator-friendly flowers in years to come.
- Take softwood cuttings of tender perennials and shrubs in summer, so they’ll have plenty of time to develop a healthy root system before the winter. Many of the best summer plants for pollinators, like lavender, buddleia, osteospermum, anthemis, perovskia and catmint, can be propagated successfully in July, when they are growing strongly. Softwood cuttings root quickly and can be potted on within a few weeks. Swapping propagated plants with friends is a cost-effective and environmentally-friendly way to fill your borders with nectar-rich flowers, of all shapes and sizes, that will cater for a wide range of pollinators.
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- Keep bird feeders stocked up, even in the summer months. Avoid whole loose peanuts, bread and fatty foods, which can be harmful if adults feed them to their young. Sunflower hearts, live mealworms and fruit like soaked raisins and sultanas, or soft apples and pears are excellent choices at this time of year. Make sure bird tables, bird baths and hanging feeders are cleaned regularly and move feeding stations to a new area of the garden each month to avoid the spread of disease.
- It’s vital to provide fresh water for wildlife in the summer months. Ponds and bird baths make great places for bathing and drinking, but make sure your pond has sloping sides or an escape route like a log (we use a plank of wood) leading up to the edge to avoid animals like hedgehogs getting stuck and drowning.
- Insects need ready access to water too. Last year my daughter made a couple of shallow drinking places for bees, hoverflies, butterflies and wasps, using plant saucers filled with soil, gravel and pebbles. The pebbles provide a flat surface to make it easy for insects to land beside the water. To complete her watering holes, she sat one of her fairies on the pebbles to keep watch over the ‘mini-beasts’ as they came down to drink.
- Research suggests that plants produce fewer flowers during periods of drought, which means less nectar for pollinators, so it’s important to water regularly to keep this liquid food flowing. Watering plants thoroughly, at the base, in the early morning or later in the evening avoids excess evaporation. Use grey water or collected rainwater, if you can, to minimise the need for mains water and to conserve this finite resource. Adding a mulch helps retain as much moisture as possible in the soil.
Let seedheads develop as summer progresses, to provide free food for birds. We leave the seedheads of Verbena bonariensis, lavender and lettuce to entice goldfinches down from the silver birch to feed. These delightful finches also love to pick the seeds out of teasel. Asters, dandelions and field scabious attract other seed-eaters like greenfinch and bullfinch, along with house sparrows.
Children love growing sunflowers and, as the seeds develop, they attract nuthatches, tits and finches. Primarily insectivorous birds like dunnocks will also forage for seed, especially if seedheads are left to stand over winter when there are fewer invertebrates around.
Creating and maintaining habitats
- Wander round the garden on a warm summer evening around dusk and you might see bats flitting above your head, hunting insects like moths and lacewings. Ponds are great for attracting other tasty bat snacks such as mayflies and midges. Night-scented flowers like sweet rocket, tobacco plant (Nicotiana alata), honeysuckle, jasmine and evening primrose will be visited by moths, which in turn lure in hungry bats.
- Common pipistrelles (Pipistrellus pipistrellus) and soprano pipistrelles (Pipistrellus pygmaeus) are the most likely to be seen around houses and gardens, but a number of other species including brown long-eared bats (Plecotus auritus) visit our gardens to feed. Artificial lighting can disorientate them, so try to avoid unnecessary lights or at least turn them off during the summer months.
- Leave wild areas of the garden alone in summer, to avoid disturbing nesting hedgehogs. Females usually have around four or five hoglets between May and October and they remain in the nest for the first three to four weeks. If the mother is disturbed when her babies are still very young, she may abandon the nest or even eat them, so it is important to give these vulnerable mammals some peace and quiet at this time of year. The insects and worms that form the main part of a hedgehog’s diet can be harder to find during the dry summer months, so it’s a good idea to provide some supplementary food like cat biscuits or meat-based cat or dog food. Make sure hedgehogs have safe access to water too.
- Keep an eye on garden ponds and top up when necessary, ideally with rainwater from water butts. Small ponds, in particular, will dry out more quickly in hot weather, but most pond life can survive fluctuating water levels so don’t worry too much about evaporation. As long as plant roots can still reach the water and wildlife has access out of the pond, then some species might even benefit from shallower water or dried-up areas at times.
- If you’re lucky, dragonflies and damselflies, like the common darter (Sympetrum striolatum) and azure damselfly, (Coenagrion puella) will visit, gliding over the water as they hunt for somewhere to lay their eggs. Froglets will be leaving ponds any time from early summer onwards. Allowing grass to grow long around the pond and creating areas like log piles nearby, provides shady places for young frogs to stay cool and hide away from predators.
- Gardens with a number of different habitats support thriving wildlife populations, so why not record the species that you see or help out with a citizen science project like the Big Butterfly Count which runs from 15 July to 7 August? We’ve recorded 18 butterfly species in our modest suburban garden over the past few years. Children love to learn about different species and collect wildlife data. We enjoy keeping a family “bio-list” of the wild creatures we spot in our garden – everything from beetles to amphibians to the wood mouse that drinks from the bird bath.
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Look out for… day flying moths
It’s a real treat to spot moths out and about during the day. Here are some of our favourite day-fliers and the best plants to grow to attract them into your garden:
- The tiny mint moth (Pyrausta aurata) loves to feed on thyme, mint and wild marjoram, so they are often abundant in gardens. With the second generation on the wing from July until around mid-September, it’s a great time to look in your herb patch for these dainty purple-brown moths, with their striking golden wing-spots. The caterpillars feed on catmint, marjoram, lemon balm, salvia and a range of different mints including apple mint and spearmint. Growing mint or some of their other food plants means you’ll be catering for these moths right through their lifecycle.
- Hummingbird hawk-moths (Macroglossum stellatarum) are most often seen between May and October, after they arrive in the UK from southern Europe. These magnificent day-flying moths breed during July and August, laying their eggs on bedstraws, wild madder and red valerian. The first time I saw a hummingbird hawk-moth above the red valerian in my border, I was thrilled. I grabbed my phone to capture the amazing hovering flight and the way they extend their long proboscis (‘macroglossum’ meaning ‘big tongue’) to feed. Unfortunately, all the excitement addled my brain and I took a two-minute video of my feet!
- If you have ragwort or groundsel growing in the garden, you might be lucky enough to find the striking black and gold caterpillars of the cinnabar moth (Tyria jacobaeae). As adults, these gorgeous little moths have slate-black forewings with red markings and bright scarlet hindwings, with a black border. They are on the wing from mid-spring right through the summer. The caterpillars spin cocoons on the ground in September, emerging as adult moths the following May or June.
Choose pollinator-friendly planting schemes that need minimal watering. Many Mediterranean plants, like thyme, rosemary, cotton lavender and phlomis, are drought-tolerant and also great for butterflies, bees and other pollinators. Look out for plants with narrow leaves that reduce water loss (such as lavender and curry plant) and furry, silver or grey-green foliage (like lamb’s ear and rose campion), all of which tend to be well adapted to dry conditions.
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