Animals, Bird Baths, Composting, How To, Megan, Ponds, Wildlife

How To Care For Wildlife in Winter

As we approach the winter months, it is time for a lot of wildlife to find a cosy spot somewhere to hibernate. Species that do not hibernate prepare for harsh weather and a lot struggle to find food. This is where your garden can come in. By learning how to care for wildlife in winter you can save the lives of some wildlife that otherwise wouldn’t make it through the harsher winter months.

Hedgehogs

how to care for wildlife in winter - hedgehog

In order for hedgehogs to survive their winter hibernation, they need to have a substantial amount of fat stored. You can help boost their fat reserves by leaving out small plates of meaty pet food, along with crunchy pet biscuits, which will help take care of their teeth. Once hedgehogs are ready to hibernate they like warm spots under piles of leaves and in logs. We suggest when collecting leaves, instead of composting all of them, place some underneath hedges at the edge of the garden. This creates welcome places hedgehogs can make a home for the winter. Talking of compost heaps, hedgehogs often like to nest in them so ensure you check your compost for hedgehogs before turning it over. Alternatively you could buy a ready-built hedgehog home for hedgehogs to settle in to.

Birds

how to care for wildlife in winter - bird on a branch

As birds do not hibernate, it is important to provide them lots of food and a water source over winter. Food in the wild can be scarce over the colder months. To help prevent starvation, have a variety of foods available to them over a number of feeding stations. Feeding stations range from bird tables to hanging feeders to ground feeding stations. The more variety of bird food you put out, the more diverse a species of bird you will find in your garden. Peanuts, bird seed mix, fat balls as well as any leftover dried fruit are all good choices and will attract blue tits to robins to goldfinches. To find out more about what bird food to put out check out our article here. It is also important to make sure birds have access to fresh water. Keep your birdbath topped up and ensure it doesn’t freeze over by placing a table tennis ball at the surface of the water.

Pond life

how to care for wildlife in winter - frog in a pond

Many of your fish will hibernate at the bottom of your pond during the winter months. It is vital that your pond does not freeze over during extra cold spells. This can trap poisonous gases, as well as suffocate frogs and the like. Help prevent this by placing a tennis ball at the surface or installing a pond heater. If it does freeze over, place a pan of boiling water on its surface to allow the ice to melt. Ensure you remove any fallen leaves and dead plant matter from your pond. If you leave this it can release harmful gases as it decomposes.

Insects

how to care for wildlife in winter - butterfly on leaf

Insects are often long forgotten when it comes to garden wildlife, but they are an important part of your garden’s ecosystem. Many play the vital role of pollination in your garden. Others are great predator control. One way you can help insects in the winter is by letting the grass on your lawn grow wildly. Try and resist mowing it until spring. This allows a place for butterflies and other insects to shelter from the harsh weather. Another way to provide shelter, as well as food for some creatures, is to create a log pile. You can also drill holes in the logs to create housing for solitary bees. Alternatively, buy a solitary bee pollinator house. Once you’ve built your log pile, be sure not to disturb it as not to interfere with the wildlife community inside.

Megan at PrimroseMegan works in the Primrose marketing team. When she is not at her desk you will find her half way up a hill in the Chilterns
or enjoying the latest thriller series on Netflix. Megan also enjoys cooking vegetarian feasts with veggies from her auntie’s vegetable garden.

See all of Megan’s posts.

Hedging, Plants, Ross, Trees

You may not be entirely familiar with the word “niwaki”, but I’m almost certain you’ve seen its results before. And if you HAVE seen it before, I’m almost certain you thought to yourself, “man, that’s pretty cool” – or words to that effect, anyway.

niwaki

The word is Japanese in origin, and simply means “garden tree”. While the literal translation may fall foul of your expectations, the implications of the term are decidedly diverse. Niwaki (pronounced ni-whack- ee) represents the Japanese art of tree trimming; in the land of the rising sun, gardens are viewed more as themed landscapes than as simple outdoor spaces. Through niwaki, gardeners can create shapes, forms and moods from their greenery to establish a unique atmosphere.

Perhaps the most famous forms of niwaki are cloud trees – you’ve probably seen them amongst the cherry blossoms circling the outskirts of the world famous Himeji castle. The foliage of a cloud tree is trimmed, pruned and shaped to match the appearance of – yup, you’ve guessed it – clouds. Cloud designs are usually meant to invoke a feeling of peace and tranquillity, but given their use amongst some of Japan’s great pieces of architecture, can also denote status and elegance.

Himeji Castle

Niwaki artists also use their tools to manipulate the tree bark, using grizzly and gnarled carvings to make them look older or as though they’ve been struck by lightning. At its core, niwaki is an expressive art; a gardener reflected in their foliage, if you will. It’s an appealing concept that has not only woven itself into the fabric of Japanese culture, but has been exported across Europe as a symbol of elegance.

Of course, the laymen among us are nowhere near capable of creating such displays on a towering pine tree or trimming a cloud-scape into any old oak. It takes a seasoned student of niwaki to attempt floral architecture on that scale. For beginners, specimens such as the Ilex crenata can present a sympathetic beginning to a lifelong hobby. These plants generally come with predetermined clouds, balanced on short but strong branches that require little maintenance. Thanks to their slow growth speed, crenata only truly require trimming up to three or four times a year. This sort of plant is perfect for niwaki newcomers to practise precision and delicacy in their trimming. Think of it a little like paint by numbers; the structure has been built for you, allowing you the freedom to practise the basics.

As your understanding of the breadth and depth of niwaki develops, along with your trimming technique, the challenges will naturally grow larger and greater. Seasoned niwaki artists can establish the design of a pre-ordained llex crenata in self-grown trees, taking ownership of every branch and bud to sculpt their perfect arrangement. Professionals are hired during the winter months to maintain forests and public displays, stripping discoloured needles from pine trees and using ropes to adjust the angle of branches.

Bonsai tree

For many, niwaki needn’t be a career but simply a hobby; a form of expression akin to writing or painting. What starts with an aesthetic appreciation of the skill may progress to owning an atmospheric table-top bonsai tree, and sometimes culminates in an entire garden designed from the roots to create the perfect outdoor setting. Niwaki represents the purest and most romantic form of gardening to millions around the world, and it’s easy to see why. There must be fewer senses of satisfaction greater than standing in a fully grown garden in which you have influenced every leaf, branch and bud.

If you have an interest in niwaki, drop us a comment below and tell us about it!

Ross at PrimroseRoss works in the Product Loading department and gets to see all the weird and wonderful products that pass through Primrose. Ross is a life-long Southampton fan and favours jazz music, reading and a quiet place to enjoy them.

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Gardening, George, Grow Your Own, How To, Plants, Watering

sowing a lawn from seed

Whether you’ve been giving your garden a makeover or want to touch up a patchy lawn, growing your own grass is a rewarding and straightforward task. Nothing quite beats a rich natural carpet for relaxing or playing on, and a thick lawn can really enhance your garden. Late spring and autumn are the best times to sow seeds, just outside of the frosty periods and while it’s wet enough to save on watering. Read on to learn about sowing a lawn from seed and before too long you will have a lush green garden to enjoy.

How to sow a new lawn in 6 steps

Step 1 – Prepare the soil

Smooth out the area of earth where you want to grow your new lawn. Then rake over it so the surface has open trenches to take in the seeds.

preparing soil

Step 2 – Sow the seeds

Take your grass seed and sprinkle over the soil. To start a new lawn, use 70g per m2 – to thicken up an existing lawn, 50g per m2 will do. Aim for an even covering of the soil, sprinkling by hand or using a spreader tool.

Step 3 – Mix in

Use the rake to gently mix the seeds into the top level of soil. Go lightly to avoid leaving any bare patches or putting the seeds too deep.

watering grass

Step 4 – Watering

Follow our watering schedule to ensure your seeds get enough hydration as they begin to grow:

First fortnight – Water lightly twice a day using a fine spray to avoid washing the seeds away.
Second fortnight – Water once a day or every other day depending on how quickly the soil dries out.
Second month – Water more heavily, twice a week.
Third month – Water once a week.
Up to 6 months – Water enough to stop it drying out, then let nature take over.

How to Keep Lawn Edges Neat

Step 5 – Mowing

Soon enough, your budding new grass will need its first trim. You should start to get shoots within the first two weeks. When the grass reaches 5cm tall and it’s a dry day, it’s time to cut. Mow slowly and don’t cut it right back – the plants are still tender. For the first four times you mow, just give it a little trim. After that you can gradually start to cut it back to your desired length.

Step 6 – Lawn care

For the best start in life, you’ll need to give your turf a little TLC. After 3 months you can start regular feeding with lawn fertiliser. But avoid using liquid fertiliser until 6 months. Fertilisers are often specialised for summer or autumn – make sure you use the right type or you will encourage growths that could be damaged at that time of year.

Don’t use weedkiller during the first 6 months either as it may kill the new shoots. Instead weed by hand. After the first year, you can begin aerating the lawn too.

growing lawn

And there you have our six step plan to lawn growing success! We hope these tips help and inspire you to trying out sowing from seed. Alternatively, you can compare real with artificial grass and see which might be best for your garden.

George at PrimroseGeorge works in the Primrose marketing team. As a lover of all things filmic, he also gets involved with our TV ads and web videos.

George’s idea of the perfect time in the garden is a long afternoon sitting in the shade with a good book. A cool breeze, peace and quiet… But of course, he’s usually disturbed by his energetic wire fox terrier, Poppy!

He writes about his misadventures in repotting plants and new discoveries about cat repellers.

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Jenny, Spiders, Wildlife

Spiders are cute.

Wait, hear me out! Ok, “cute” might have been pushing it a little but spiders are essential little creatures you should be thrilled to have about.

why spiders are good for your garden
Look at this little guy. Oh, or don’t. Sorry!

Here are the ten best reasons to love having spiders around your home and garden.

  1. They might make you rich. According to legend, finding a money spider in your hair means you will gain riches beyond your wildest dreams. According to my own experience, finding a spider in my hair meant lots of flailing and screaming beyond my previously wildest screams but hey, who am I to question folklore?
  2. MAY THE ODDS BE EVER IN YOUR SPIDER’S FAVOUR! They fight to the death. They aren’t fond of each other as they are territorial. If another spider gets in your spider’s space they fight. Winner eats the loser. The best way to control spider numbers? Use more spiders. Like fighting fire with fire but with more legs.
  3. Fancy having royalty in your home? Spider blood contains a chemical called haemocyanin which turns blue when it carries oxygen so they have “blue blood”. Basically like having the Queen round for tea right?
  4. Spiders are efficient predators and prey on all manner of insects. They protect your garden from a variety of pests that would otherwise feast on your flowers and other delicate plants.
  5. Spiders protect you too. They hunt and eat many household pests that can transmit diseases to humans such as mosquitoes, fleas, bedbugs, cockroaches and a host of other disease-carrying little beasties. You’re welcome!
  6. Forget the bee’s knees. Spiders are fascinating little creatures which most of us know have eight legs and eight eyes. Did you know that a spider has six joints on each leg? That gives them a whopping forty eight knees.
  7. Full of festive cheer! Eastern European legends tell of a poor family who had no money to decorate their Christmas tree. They put up the tree anyway and when they woke on Christmas morning the tree was full of sparkles from the sun’s early rays caught on beautiful spider webs. I can’t tell if this is magical or horrifying but either way you’ll probably feel a little different about tinsel from now on.
  8. Spiders are super strong. They can carry up to 170 times their own body weight while scuttling across a ceiling. That would be like a human being carrying a double decker bus… upside down… Think comic book heroes but more ridiculous.
  9. Most spiders are not capable of biting through human skin. They can chomp away on household and garden pests but trust me! You’re safe.
  10. You might as well like them, they have us seriously outnumbered. With approximately 670 species of spiders in the UK alone it is estimated that for every individual in Britain there are 500,000 spiders.
cute spider
Cute or creepy, they do have their charms

Convinced? Great! Now how do you go about encouraging spiders to come stay in your garden? Fill your garden with tall plants for spiders to cast their webs on. Flowers will also encourage spiders to settle in your garden. Leaving a small portion of the garden mulched, for moisture and cover and will create a place for the spiders to lay their eggs, a great way to achieve this is to start composting. A great way to encourage spiders to stay in your garden is to plant a beneficial insect border or row in early spring. You can encourage a host of beneficial bugs, from teeny tiny predators to big and beautiful pollinators, there are lots of habitats on the market to help encourage these beneficial bugs to set up shop in your garden.

Not convinced? Don’t worry. You aren’t alone. Studies have shown that up to 18% of Brits admit to being afraid of spiders. Really afraid! Fear not, we have alternative solutions too.

Jenny at PrimroseJenny works in the Primrose Product Loading team working on adding new and exciting products to the website. When she’s not writing, proofreading or drinking the strongest coffee possible Jenny loves to climb and can often be found halfway up a wall at the local climbing centre.

See all of Jenny’s posts.