Are you keen to create an urban wildlife garden at home? If you’re living in a town or city centre, even a tiny backyard can be transformed into a haven for wildlife.
You might think that if you live in a town centre there’s no point trying to attract wildlife to your tiny garden, but you couldn’t be more wrong! Local wildlife will be grateful to find a green oasis in an urban landscape and will very happily move, whether on a temporary or permanent basis. Although there are often dedicated nature reserves and green spaces in urban areas, finding domestic gardens that cater for their needs are still a welcome prospect to small wildlife. There are plenty of easy ways in which you can adapt your front gardens or backyard to be more wildlife friendly and, as urban wildlife gardeners typically discover, you’ll gain benefits from them too.
Here are some practical tips to help you create an urban wildlife garden in your outdoor space with wildlife habitats and plants that small mammals and birds will love.
Urban wildlife garden tip 1: Plant as many plants as possible
This one might sound obvious, but it’s the most important. All wildlife likes cover, and if your garden is mostly paving stones and gravel they’ll feel too exposed. That doesn’t mean that you have to dig up all your hard surfaces and put a lawn in though – just maximise what you have. Grow climbers such as clematis and jasmine up any fences you have – they’ll add a colourful focal point and scent to your garden, as well as appealing to wildlife.
If you do have any flowerbeds around the edges, then cram these full of plants. You can plant taller perennial shrubs such as buddleias and spiraea japonica at the back – just make sure you check how tall/wide they’re going to grow first! At the front, add bright, insect-friendly annual plants such as cosmos, sweet williams and snapdragons. Depending on how much space you have, you could also let a corner of the bed go wild or fill it with wild flowers for a varied habitat.
If you don’t have flowerbeds, use pots! Larger pots are easier to look after and don’t need watering as often. You could try putting up a trough on legs and then filling the space underneath with terracotta pots, to get the maximum plants-for-space ratio. The more diversity of plants you have, the more likely you are to attract a greater range of wildlife in your garden.
Urban wildlife garden tip 2: Add water sources
All creatures need to drink, and in the summer local wildlife may be hard-pressed to find water. Adding a water source in your garden can be really helpful for them. Moving water such as a small fountain is ideal and will keep fresher for longer, but otherwise install a bird bath or just a large, shallow bowl of water such as an old baking tray.
If you have room, you could also consider adding a small garden pond with a few water plants – the wildlife would love it!
Urban wildlife garden tip 3: Add a food source
This can be a slightly tricky one if you live in an area with lots of cats! It’s still possible to put bird feeders out, though, just make sure you put them high enough. A tree is ideal, as it also provides cover, but otherwise you could position feeders on a high fence or the wall of the house. Top them up regularly with a varied offering of nuts, dried fruit, seed, suet fat balls and fresh fruit to attract varied visitors.
Urban wildlife garden tip 4: Don’t use pesticides
It’s a little more work to garden organically, but as long as your urban garden is fairly compact it shouldn’t be too onerous. Pull weeds up rather than spray them, pick slugs off rather than use slug pellets and if you do have to use a commercial product make sure it’s organic and wildlife friendly. Using pesticides disrupts the whole food chain, not just the pests you’re aiming at, as birds can eat poisoned slugs and become ill themselves.
Urban wildlife garden tip 5: Create shady areas
Wildlife appreciate having shady areas to hide and feel safe, so try and include some in your wildlife friendly garden. Small evergreen shrubs, herbaceous borders and perennial plants can create shady areas in garden beds and borders and native trees are an obvious choice too. You could create some shady places for hedgehogs by making your own hedgehog hideaways.
Urban wildlife garden tip 6: Install bird and bee boxes
If you’re keen to have more wildlife in your garden, installing areas where they could take up residence is a good move. Bird boxes can be attached to any existing trees, the top of a fence of even hidden in a bush. If you’ve seen particular birds in your garden, such as sparrows, robins, blackbirds or blue tits, you could add a specific size or style of bird box that they’re most likely to enjoy. For example, sparrows like to live in communities, such a large sparrow box with multiple nesting space in it, could attract sparrows to nest in your outdoor space. If you’re a dab hand at DIY, you could make your own using recycled materials.
Likewise, you might want to put up some bee boxes to attract bees or other insects into your garden or add log piles for insects such as beetles, spiders, woodlice and snails to enjoy. If you have pebbles or stones in your garden, you could arrange these into rock piles as it could attract animals such as slow worms.
Urban wildlife garden tip 7: Make compost
If you have the space, then installing a small compost heap or bin for food and garden waste is helpful for everyone. It’s better for the planet, as you’re reducing your household waste; it’s better for you as you’ll have some free compost to use and it’s definitely better for the wildlife! Compost heaps or bins, as long as they’re placed directly onto the earth, will quickly become an insect hotel with worms and woodlice moving in. This provides more food for other wildlife such as birds and hedgehogs. You could also try leaving logs at the back of flowerbeds to decay naturally, which will offer a haven for insects.
Urban gardens are an ideal environment to attract wildlife and could provide important habitats for small creatures, all year long. Plants, flowers, food and water help provide for the basic needs of wildlife and by focusing on planting small trees, bushes and flowers that they like, you can attract them into your garden. Hopefully, once they discover the safe places that you’re providing, your urban wildlife gardening efforts will encourage them to stay.1