We know bees, hoverflies and other beneficial insects provide a welcome sight for gardeners in spring and summer, pollinating our flowers and helping us to reap rich harvests, but these valued species also need plenty of protection in the winter to ensure they return in years to come.
As part of Wild About Gardens Week, the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) and The Wildlife Trusts (TWT) are urging people to do more to support the UK’s vital pollinators during the cooler months.
RHS senior entomologist Andrew Salisbury says: “Pollinators and other invertebrates need sheltered places to spend the cold winter months. By being a little less tidy, particularly around the base of hedges and in garden borders, creating bug hotels and log piles, we can provide much needed overwintering sites, giving pollinators a head start in the spring.”
The two organisations have produced a winter survival guide for the UK’s 1,500 species of pollinating insects. People with outside spaces are urged to:
Make an insect hotel or overwintering habitat - Insect hotels provide shelter and overwintering habitats for many pollinators. WAG week is featuring a ‘build a bug hotel’ competition to encourage gardeners, schools and community groups to get building and share photographs of their projects to inspire others to get involved. More details about the competition can be found at www.wildaboutgardensweek.org.uk/buildabughotel. Entries close on October 31.
Create log piles - Some pollinating insects nest or overwinter in dead wood and many uncommon insects such as the stag beetle rely on it for a large part of their lifecycle. Half bury some logs, leave dead wood where it falls, and keep tree stumps in place.
Cut back on the cutting back - instead of cutting flower borders back in late autumn, leave the dead stems all winter until early spring. The hollow stems of perennial plants provide shelter for overwintering insects.
Let your lawn grow - Leave a long patch over the winter, before cutting it back, resuming mowing in early spring and it’ll help many creatures hibernate.
Ensure your garden contains a wide range of plants, trees and shrubs that produce pollen and nectar resources throughout the year. Autumn and winter nectar plants to consider include: Spanish traveller’s joy (Clematis cirrhosa), winter-flowering crocus (Crocus species), ivy (Hedera helix), Purpus honeysuckle (Lonicera × purpusii), Michaelmas daisy (Aster), perennial sunflower (Helianthus × laetiflorus), winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis) and sweet box (Sarcococca confusa).
Be considerate to dandelions and nettles, which are crucial for many pollinators.