Essential tips on winter wildlife gardening

During the winter months our gardening and pond maintenance ‘to do list’ is not as extensive as in the warmer summer months. Neither is it to be forgotten because it feels too cold to venture out. However, being too keen and over “clinical” is not good for wildlife.  Rake-off the leaves from your lawn but don’t bin or burn them. Instead, create homes for small creatures.

Our gardens and ponds become an important sanctuary to wildlife and it is important that we look after them throughout the year and not just when it suits us. They need a safe place to take refuge to continue their lifecycle into the following Spring.

Hedgehogs and the Dormouse (if you live in the south and lucky enough to have one visiting your garden), for instance appreciate a mound of dried leaves piled-up in the corner of the garden or in a protected area under a tree, in which to snuggle-up in and hibernate for winter.

Gather together a pile of small logs and place it in a flowerbed. This will provide a home for many insects. If you have a birdbath and it ices over then pour in a bit of hot water to defrost it. Birds, bees and other insects need puddles or baths of rainwater throughout the winter.

The cold is not a big problem for birds, but finding food is. They need a continuous supply to build and maintain adequate fat supplies to store on the body and ‘burn’ for energy. Put out fat balls and keep your bird feeders full throughout the winter. The smaller birds, like blue tits and goldcrests, have to effectively feed throughout the hours of daylight in winter and consume a vast quantity of food to make sure they build the necessary fat reserves to get them through the long, cold nights.

For pond owners there is essential winter maintenance, which needs to be carried out. When your pond freezes over, create an ice-free opening so gases can escape and the fish can breathe. A de-icer will help keep a section of your ponds water surface ice-free. If the temperatures continue below freezing and your pond is frozen over for long periods, ammonia and carbon dioxide will build up from fish breathing. Ammonia is also generated from decomposing plant material and fish waste. If these gases can’t escape, your fish can die. Plus they need oxygen to breathe. If you don’t have a de-icer or pond heater then you can improvise by placing a frying pan filled with hot water over the ice to melt a hole or place a plastic ball on the surface so ice can form around it and when removed you have a perfect hole for toxic gases to escape.   

It is also important that you clean your pond of debris, especially leaves that could decay over winter and rob the water of oxygen. Microscopic aquatic plants continue producing oxygen as long as light penetrates the pond even if iced over. However, a blanket of snow over the ice will prevent light penetration, making it impossible for the microscopic plants to produce oxygen. Combined with the decomposition of vegetation and fish waste, there may be insufficient oxygen for fish, causing them to suffocate. Snow removal, from at least a portion of your pond surface, will help reduce the likelihood of this happening. 
And, lastly it is always advisable to have a walk around your pond to do a general check that the edging is in place and your pond liner isn’t exposed to possible damage by visiting wildlife to your pond. A good quality
rubber pond liner is not likely to be damaged by a sudden drop in temperature and freezing conditions. 

Please refer to my blog on Autumn pond maintenance for further seasonal pond tips.

While you snuggle-up next to the fire this winter, I hope that the tips I have shared are enough to keep the wildlife in your garden as well as your pond. healthy and happy. If you have any other winter pond maintenance tips, please share them with us.

4 thoughts on “Essential tips on winter wildlife gardening

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