Last updated on October 23rd, 2023 at 08:15 pm
At the moment we are busy preparing ourselves and our garden for the cold season. And we are not alone in this – our little garden inhabitants also have to make sure that they are fit for the winter in time so that the frost does not harm them. We have put together a few measures for you that can be easily implemented and help our animal friends to get through the cold season in good shape.
Valuable habitat: The garden
In addition to cultivated landscapes, which are often more reminiscent of a desert than a diverse habitat, our domestic gardens now make up a large part of our landscape. Unfortunately, these are often far too “clean” and thoroughly cleaned in autumn, with the result that many animals can no longer find sufficient food or suitable hiding places in autumn and winter. Dead plant parts and foliage are often cleared away and disposed of, which has fatal consequences for hedgehogs and consorts: There is simply no building material for the winter hotel and the buffet also looks quite empty – death by freezing or starvation are not infrequently the result. Yet it is very easy to lend a helping hand and turn your garden into a precious winter oasis of well-being. In fact, the best thing to do is to clean up as little as possible and leave the cleanup until spring, when you’ll be able to let your hair down. So instead of reaching for the pruning shears after a long day at work or on a free weekend, you can make yourself comfortable indoors with a cup of tea and a good book.
The right shelter – the right thing for everyone
As we already know, yes, for example, the dead plant remains of perennial herbs are a great cold protection for the plant itself and provide space for many animals, as well as insects and their eggs and larvae. Bonus: In spring, hiding places also double as nurseries for many species, such as various butterflies or leafhoppers. Leaf or rock piles are also great and totally popular with many animals.
Let’s stay with the insects. They are cold-blooded creatures, which means that their body temperature is linked to the ambient temperature. If it gets cold, they freeze and can hardly move. To keep the frost from killing them, some of them have a kind of built-in cold protection in their bodies, but they also need a sheltered place. Insects benefit enormously if you leave old foliage, as well as the remains of perennial shrubs, and do not cut back woody plants. It is better to wait until there is no longer a threat of frost in the spring – by then the winter guests and their flocks of children will have flown away again. Especially plants that are hollow on the inside (e.g. reeds and many herbs) are very popular with wild bees and bumblebees. Especially in urban areas, the remains of potted plants are very popular and valuable. You also don’t need to start the lawn mower from October onwards – this leaves many stalks that hold plenty of food and hiding places.
Then there are insects that find their way into our homes from time to time, including butterflies and ladybugs. They like to look for protected burrows, for example cracks in walls or trees, but also end up in garages, sheds or unfinished attics. So if you find a few such guests in winter, please don’t disturb them. In spring, when it warms up, they’ll flutter back outside on their own!
Tip: Insect hotel
Insect hotels give us an exciting insight into the life of insects and are a great winter home, especially if you don’t have a garden. You can buy them ready-made in stores or find instructions on how to make them yourself on the Internet. You just have to make sure that the caves/tubes are deep enough (at least 8 to 10 cm) and that the drill holes have the right diameter (3 to 6 mm). However, shelter alone is not enough; our garden hummers also need sufficient food in advance so that they can prepare for the cold and move in in the first place. Insect-friendly plants nearby (especially berry and fruit trees, flowering herbs such as lavender or lemon balm) are the icing on the cake, look great and also sweeten our everyday life with their fruits.
The useful spiny hedgehogs are very grateful if they find a shelter and something to eat in the garden. Gardens are among the most important habitats of these rare animals, which is why you should be sure to accommodate them in the fall. Too clean and tidy gardens, however, are also a disaster for hedgehogs: here they can neither find enough insects, worms and larvae to eat, nor suitable shelter for their winter hibernation. Piles of leaves and dead wood also provide good hiding places for hedgehogs, as do small sheltered niches, such as under the garden shed. Since there are many woodlice and other ground creatures crawling around under the swept up leaves, they also make great food chambers. Below, we’ve got a little guide for you on how to create leaf piles that will last through the stormy fall and provide good shelter for potential inhabitants.
Insect die-offs, disappearing natural habitats – now you might think it would be good to help the hedgehogs a little in the form of supplementary feeding. At this point, unfortunately, opinions differ: some voices claim that it is best to provide food for hedgehogs all year round, while others say that nature should be allowed to take its course, or that this is even harmful to hedgehogs. As we are not experts in this field, we cannot make any real recommendations. But: In all this you should keep in mind that destroyed biodiversity cannot be compensated by feeding by us humans. It is worth much more if you try to provide variety in your garden: different flowering plants attract insects almost all year round, in a healthy soil that is not polluted by fertilizers and pesticides, it is teeming with worms and other delicacies. A blackberry bush is often home to a variety of birds, and the berries, in turn, taste so good, and not just to us. However, if you see hedgehogs running around in late fall (around mid/late October) that are significantly underweight, you should take action and contact a local animal welfare society (there are also some that cater specifically to wildlife).
Amphibians and Reptiles
Alternate-warmth creatures, which include amphibians and reptiles, also hide from the onset of winter. Compost piles are especially popular with native snakes and toads because of their warmth inside. Hedges, roots, earth crevices, dry stone walls or rock piles, and of course those wonderful piles of leaves are also popular. If you have a pond with a depth of at least 1 meter, this is for many animals a six in the survival lottery; on the bottom, for example, newts, water frogs and dragonfly larvae hibernate, in the bank planting countless other little animals can be found. So you should definitely leave these until spring and not cut them back. Lizards and ants, on the other hand, like to burrow in the ground, so a few free sand or earth areas in the bed are also very useful.
Our little birds don’t hibernate for the winter; some of them migrate to the warm south, while others brave the local cold. However, a sheltered and covered spot in the garden comes in handy for them. This can be an open bird house, for example, where you can lay out some food for grain eaters (tits, sparrows and finches are among them) in the form of grain mixtures when the snow cover is closed and frost is coming. So-called soft food eaters (robins, woodpeckers, nuthatches, blackbirds) can also get their money’s worth. Please keep your hands off bread and spiced snacks, both of which do more harm than good to our feathered friends.
Mix your own food in winter: the more varied the better!
- Sunflower seeds
- Poppy seeds
- Hemp seeds
- Chopped/ground nuts
Soft food eaters
- Raisins/dried berries
- Dried fruit (apples, pears)
- Rolled oats
- Finely chopped nuts
- Fresh fruit (only on frost-free days)
Nest boxes provide a sheltered hiding place, as do wooden boards or other ledges under canopies in a wind-protected corner, which are also easy to install and clean. Piles of leaves (surprise!), as mentioned earlier, house many (soft) animals and thus provide rations for soft food eaters. And the stands of plants left standing, in turn, often harbor seeds that are palatable to granivores.
The pile of leaves – luxury under leaves
Last but not least, we have a little tutorial for the much sought-after all-rounder: the leaf pile! It has many fans in the animal kingdom and is created in no time. No wonder, because it not only provides first-class protection against frost, wetness and wind, but also houses a particularly large number of insects, woodlice and other ground creatures. You can either use only the leaves or additionally brushwood and smaller dead wood.
What you need:
- Leaves, brushwood, dead wood
- A few branches for the finish
- Optional: wire netting/mesh wire
- Stones/sticks for fixing
First of all, find a quiet and protected corner in the garden – you can either pile the pile freely or place it in front of a hedge or wall. Now make a pile (more than one is allowed, of course) of the above-mentioned material. To prevent the wind from blowing everything away, you can place a wire mesh or piece of wire netting over the first layer of leaves on top of the pile and secure the corners with heavy stones or dig them in and fix them with sticks. For camouflage and additional stabilization, pile more foliage and place slightly larger branches on top of the pile. Don’t forget to leave a gap so the hedgehog and his friends can get in. If you want to make the pile of leaves especially great, you can also dig a hollow in advance and place it over it.