GARDEN TIPS - 28/09/18
Hedgehogs aren't just cute, they're also valuable pest controllers. They’re insectivores with a voracious appetite – an adult can easily eat up to 200g of slugs and insects a night. Their numbers have been declining rapidly in recent years. They were once a common sight, with the population estimated at 30 million in the 1950s. But that has plummeted to fewer than one million today, with a third of this loss thought to have taken place in the past decade. In urban areas the decline seems to have at least levelled off, but anything we can do to encourage our little spikey friends can only be a good thing, we think.
Autumn’s the time of year when hedgehogs most need our help. They’re busy fattening themselves up for their winter hibernation, which usually begins in early November. They like to stay close to a good food supply so now’s a great time to attract them to your garden. Here are a few things you can do to encourage them:
Make sure they can get in
Hedges are the best perimeters for hedgehogs and all kinds of wildlife. Failing that, leave small openings in fences and boundaries. Cut a gap the size of a CD case in your fences - big enough for hedgehogs, but too small for foxes. Encourage your neighbours to do the same so that you create a series of 'linked' gardens for the hedgehogs to explore and hunt for food in.
Do less gardening!
Yes, really. Leave patches of long grass and don’t immediately sweep up fallen leaves and twigs - if you do, just make piles of leaves in a few places around the garden.
Compost heaps, piles of leaves and specially-made hedgehog homes - just a pile of logs, leaves and twigs will do - are all sanctuaries for hedgehogs. If you’re building a hedgehog house, choose a quiet spot that’s unlikely to be disturbed from November to March - this is when they’ll be hibernating. Adopt a pragmatic approach to wildlife gardening by seeing this as an opportunity to put a seat on the log pile and calling it a feature!
Provide food and water
Leave some specially made hedgehog food out for them and create the right habitat for their insect-rich diet to thrive. To make sure cats and foxes don’t steal any food you leave out, put it under an upturned plastic washing up bowl. Cut a hedgehog-sized hole in one end and put the food at the opposite end, so other animals can’t stick their paws in and get it. Put a few heavy stones on top of the box, or incorporate it into your log pile hedgehog house.
Many people make the mistake of leaving out bread and milk for hedgehogs, but they're actually lactose intolerant, which is potentially fatal to them.
Hedgehogs like to drink lots of water overnight, so leave out a bowl and try to top this up every day so they learn to rely on it being there for them.
Keep them safe
Check that fruit and sports nets aren’t too close to the ground, so hedgehogs won't get tangled up in them
Check long grass before you mow it, compost heaps before you turn or empty them; and bonfires before you light them
Provide escape routes from ponds by sloping the walls or piling up some stones at the sides
For more information and advice, have a look on the RSPB website.
Vine weevil grubs hatch around now. Left to their own devices they’ll munch away at roots all winter, so treat all of your pots with a naturally occurring nematode product (Nemasys Vine Weevil Killer is very good). Pop in to the shop or give us a call - we’d be happy to get some for you.
As hanging baskets and summer bedding displays reach the end of their life, clear out the contents and start again with Violas, Pansies, Cyclamen, Senecio Alpina and other colourful winter bedding - and tuck some bulbs underneath, for spring flowering.
Sow new wildflower meadow areas on to well-prepared soil now, for strong plants and beautiful results next summer. UK-grown seed blends are available for pretty much every situation, including full sun, shade, wetland, clay, acid and calcareous soils.
Admit that summer is over and pack away your wooden garden furniture. Cleaning and oiling it with clear Danish Oil before you do will really help prolong its life.
If your houseplants have been outside this summer, bring them in now before temperatures drop too much more. They’ll probably have attracted some crawling individuals, so check carefully for aphids and caterpillars - the last thing you want is an indoor infestation.
This is a really good time to divide and plant new perennials, while the weather is still mild and the soil warm. They’ll put down good roots over the winter for a really good display next summer. Garden centres (including us) are usually doing good deals on perennials around now too, as they start preparing for Christmas (sorry to have to use the “C” word).
Plant your spring flowering bulbs - see our guide from last week.
If you’re doing any pruning this week, remember that Penstemons can struggle to make it through winter, so leave plenty of protective growth on the plants. Never cut them back hard.
Prepare Brussels sprouts for the tougher days ahead by earthing up their stems and firming down around their bases. They’re not the most ergonomically shaped plants for blustery weather, so do this every now and again to stop them keeling over!
Have a fantastic weekend!
The Lancasters Team