Go wild in April
Discover the best plants to make your garden a haven for wildlife this month, with Kate Bradbury
In April, garden birds such as great tits and blue tits are sitting on eggs, while bees and other pollinators are gathering pollen and nectar to feed their young. Depending on where you live in the country, tadpoles are either just hatching or starting to develop legs. Insects everywhere are frantically making the next generation, from ladybirds laying eggs on aphid colonies to moths finding leaves for their caterpillars to munch. With numbers of most species in long term decline, our role as gardeners is to ensure they breed successfully.
It may seem at odds with your usual gardening methods, but try leaving aphids and caterpillars on plants – birds such as house sparrows feed aphids to their chicks, while a baby blue tit needs to eat 100 caterpillars a day for the first three weeks of its life. Create other habitats by leaving areas of grass long, making log and leaf piles and having a large open compost heap, all of which will provide food and shelter for a wide range of species. If conditions are dry, use water from your water butts to hydrate plants so they keep producing nectar, and ensure there’s mud on the ground for red mason bees and house martins to make their nests.
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April wildlife inspiration
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Apple and pear trees start to blossom this month, with the solitary red mason bee taking full advantage. Red mason bees are much more efficient pollinators than honeybees – they carry pollen on the underside of their abdomen in a messy brush called a ‘scopa’, so it’s much more easily transferred from one bloom to the next.
If you have apples or crab apples in your garden, why not pop up a bee hotel? Then the bees will have very little distance to travel between the blossom and their nests.
Lungwort, or pulmonaria, is so named because of the patterns on the leaves which are said to resemble diseased lungs. It’s the flowers that are important this month – look out for little orange bees zipping around them like hoverflies, and larger black bees with orange hind legs. These are the male and female hairy footed flower bees, an early flying solitary species that seems to love lungwort flowers.
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The flowers emerge bright pink but gradually turn blue. This starts when a flower is pollinated, which triggers a change in the cells from acid to alkaline. This tells pollinating insects which flowers they should visit, saving them valuable time, and ensures no flowers are missed.
Garden tiger caterpillars
Lots of caterpillars are emerging from hibernation now, including the wonderful ‘woolly bear’ caterpillar of the garden tiger. This once-common moth has declined by 92 per cent over the last 40 years, with climate change looking like the main culprit, as fewer caterpillars seem able to survive the milder, wetter winters.
The caterpillars eat a variety of ‘weeds’ such as dandelions, nettles and knapweeds, and hibernate among leaf litter and thickets of grass. In gardens we can give it a helping hand by being less tidy in winter, allowing fallen leaves to accumulate and letting some areas of grass remain tussocky. Being more tolerant of weeds will also help.
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