Animals, Conservation, Insects, Megan, Wildlife

On the whole, people hate wasps. Unlike their furry cousins, bees, they tend to be swatted away and squashed a lot more, the poor things. But wasps are widely misunderstood creatures. Similarly to bees, wasps have seen a reduction in numbers of 50% in the last 20 years. To find out why we should be protecting wasps as well as bees (yes, really) and how you can help, read on.

Why We Should Be Protection Wasps As Well As Bees

Why Do Wasps Sting?

I know, I know. Most of you will be thinking, why should we protect wasps? They sting people for no reason. So let’s clear on thing up before we get onto why we should be protecting them – that’s not actually true!

Most people get stung by wasps in late summer, when their colonies are beginning to prepare for winter hibernation. During this time, a lot of the wasps die off, and breeding of worker wasps ceases. The remaining worker wasps are left confused and disorientated by these changes – yes, wasps get confused too! In addition, there is also a lack of food as autumn approaches, leaving wasps in further despair.

Imagine that your whole world has changed, you’re starving, then you are approached by a giant flapping around trying to squash you. We would be stressed too! When a wasp feels this stress, it gets hostile and ends up stinging. Wasps are also territorial creatures, so if you approach a nest, you are also likely to get stung.

Why We Should Be Protection Wasps As Well As Bees

Species of Wasp

There are around 20,000 different species of wasp, and most are solitary wasps which don’t sting. The wasp species we are most familiar with in the UK is the Common Wasp. You will frequently see the Common Wasp buzzing about your garden, especially during summer time.

The Common Wasp live in large colonies and build their nests within cavities in houses and roofs. Their nests are constructed from a paper like material, made by the queen chewing on wood.

Why We Should Be Protection Wasps As Well As Bees

Wasps as Predators

Wasps are extremely important to the environment. They are vital predators to pests such as greenflies and caterpillars. Without wasps, the overall insect population would be considerably higher and many a field of crop would be destroyed by disease.

They are viewed as a beneficial insect by many farmers, and are increasingly being used as a natural pest control for crops such as celery and lettuce. The use of wasps as pest control also decreases the need for toxic chemicals that are very damaging to our environment.

Why We Should Be Protection Wasps As Well As Bees

Wasps as Disease-Fighters

Wasps are also protecting you. Many human diseases are spread by insects that are the prey of wasps.

In addition, a study has shown that one species of wasp could help tackle cancer. The venom of the Polybia paulista species of wasp was found to destroy various types of cancerous cells. It is definitely viable that the finding from further study of wasps could be used in cancer treatment in the future.

Why We Should Be Protection Wasps As Well As Bees

Wasps as Pollinators

Although not widely known, wasps are pollinator of many crops and flowers. It is a common misconception that bees are the only pollinators. Some research even shows that wasps are exclusive pollinators for some species of orchid.

Why We Should Be Protection Wasps As Well As Bees

Fig wasps are vital in the pollination of figs. Fig trees depend on wasps to make their seeds and distribute pollen. This partnership is something that has existed for millions of years. It involves the female fig wasp burying itself into the fig, and if the fig is male, laying her eggs. The wasp then dies inside the fig. The eggs left eventually hatch into larvae, burrow out and take the pollen with them. If the fig is female, the female wasp pollinates it then dies inside the fig. But fear not – the fig fruit produces an enzyme that breaks down the body of the wasp completely, so you are not consuming a dead wasp when chomping down on a fig!

Why We Should Be Protection Wasps As Well As Bees

How You Can Help

The first step to helping in the conservation in wasps is to not get rid of them! In general, wasps will not harm you if you do not threaten them. They may land on your skin, however this will be likely to inspect a smell – wasps have a sense a smell that trumps that of a dog. If you stay calm, the wasp will fly off with no bother.

If you find an active nest on the outside of your house, your best bet is to wait for the queen to vacate then fill the nest with soil to prevent it being taken over by another queen.

You can also help conserve the wasp population by decreasing your pesticide and insecticide use. Wasps shouldn’t be considered pests – they are in themselves a form of pest control, so by killing wasps of, you are going to end up with a lot more pests.

Overall, wasps play an important role in our ecosystem and should be considered alongside bees as from a conservation point of view.

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.

Animals, Annie, How To, Wildlife

At this time of year when the weather becomes colder and the long summer days finally give way to the long winter nights we find ourselves starting to prepare for this change. Whether it be by wrapping up warm, popping on the heating or spending more time indoors we need and crave a warm, cosy atmosphere. While the majority of our preparation is for our comfort, for some of our wildlife being well prepared is a matter of survival and this is most definitely the case for one of our most popular garden companions the hedgehog.

Hedgehogs are an integral part of British wildlife and are an excellent friend to gardeners. As they are nocturnal you may not have noticed them scurrying around in your garden helping to eat the slugs, snails and insects that damage the plants you have carefully grown. However, our favourite helpful, spiky mammals are sadly in decline. During the 1950s there were supposedly over 30 million hedgehogs in the UK. Sadly that number has now reduced dramatically to less than a million. A number of factors have contributed to this sharp drop from new buildings and roads intruding on hedgehogs habitats to climate change disrupting natural hibernation times. Nevertheless, all is not lost! There are a number of things that you can do to help prepare your small friends for winter and hopefully help stop this trend.

A Hedgehog Friendly Garden

Creating a hedgehog friendly garden is simple to do and will help to protect hedgehogs over the long winter months. Hedgehogs are attracted to gardens which have lots of nooks and crannies that they can hide and nest in. Some of their favourite places include the base of a hedgerow, under a shed and in dense undergrowth. Not only do these areas provide shelter but they are often teeming with invertebrates for hedgehogs to feast upon. If you would like to encourage a hedgehog to nest in your garden you will find that it helps to keep part of your garden wild.

Hedgehogs also like to be able to move around freely. During their nighttime wanderings when they are out looking for mates, food and nesting areas they can travel as far as 2km! In the build up to winter it is particularly important that hedgehogs find enough to eat so that they can survive hibernation. So if it is possible (and your neighbours have agreed) it is a good idea to create a little hedgehog hole in your fence (or dig a channel underneath) so that they can roam happily between your gardens.

If you are trying to attract a hedgehog to your garden you need to make sure that it is a safe space for them. With the hedgehog population in decline it is important to ensure that potential dangers are kept to a minimum. Chemicals used in the garden, especially ones found in slug pellets, can seriously harm hedgehogs so it is best to avoid them. Hedgehogs eat slugs so should be a great pest controller anyway, but if there are still too many slugs try using beer to get rid of the pests or place obstacles around your plants. Ponds can also prove to be a problem. Hedgehogs often like to drink from ponds and can fall in. Even though they can swim it is important that they can exit the pond quickly otherwise it can prove dangerous. One thing you can do to help them is place a brick at the side of the pond to act as a step so that they can find their way out. Finally, it is important to check bonfires, grass cuttings, compost heaps and rubbish bags before disturbing them. You might find a hedgehog has decided to use it as a nest and has set up home!

Feeding Your Hedgehog

As winter approaches hedgehogs are starting to prepare for hibernation. Typically hedgehogs will hibernate between October and March and need to rely on their fat stores to keep them alive until spring. However, there are many reasons why a hedgehog may not have put on enough weight. For example, bad weather can affect their food supply. Some young hedgehogs might not have been alive long enough to have put on enough weight. So as hibernation season approaches it can’t hurt to give the hedgehogs a helping hand when it come to feeding. You can leave a variety of things in the garden for hedgehogs to munch on including meaty cat and dog food (no fish flavours), sunflower seeds, nuts and kitten biscuits. You can also find special hedgehog food in the shops and a bowl of water is always well recieved. However, you should never feed a hedgehog bread or milk as they can’t digest it.

A Home Fit for Mrs Tiggy-Winkle

If you are lucky enough to have a hedgehog living in your garden one important thing that you can do is provide them with their very own hedgehog home! Hedgehogs tend to go house hunting during the autumn months when preparing for hibernation so the earlier you place your hedgehog home in your garden the more likely it is that you will acquire a new neighbour. We have a few wonderful purpose built Hogitats which can be placed in the garden and are ready for new occupants to move into straight away. Or if you are feeling adventurous and fancy a DIY challenge you can easily create your own Hedgehog home fit for Mrs Tiggy-Winkle herself!

There are a few things that need to be taken into consideration if you decide you wish to make your own custom built hedgehog palace. You will need to build a home that has a large compartment which provides protection from both the cold and the heat. You should also make sure that there is an entrance tunnel leading to this main section. This will stop predators such as badgers, dogs, foxes and cats from being able to reach in and grab the hedgehogs with their paws. You should also ensure that there you have placed material inside that hedgehogs can use to build their nests such as dry leaves, grass and newspaper. Hedgehogs like to build large nests and will appreciate having materials in the home to help get them started.

When you have finished building your house you also need to think about where you will place it in your garden. Just like human house-hunters, for hedgehogs location is everything! You should place the house in a quiet spot and cover it with vegetation. For a step by step guide on how to build and maintain a hedgehog home both the RSPB and The Wildlife Trust provide excellent instructions to help you build a house that any hedgehog would be happy to call home.  

Image: Boyana.kjfg/Sleeping beauty of a Hedgehog.jpg/CC BY 4.0

Let Sleeping Hedgehogs Lie

If you have a hedgehog family living in your garden it is important that during the winter you leave your hibernating hedgehog alone. If you have a hedgehog house make sure you are not frequently checking it to see if there are any occupants. Accidents do happen and if you do wake a sleeping hedgehog don’t panic! If it is an adult hedgehog you can leave out some food and water and it will hopefully settle back down to hibernate again.

However, if you do see hedgehogs out and about in the daytime during the winter they may need some help. In that case you should carefully pick up the injured animal using gardening gloves to protect your hands and bring them inside. You should make sure you don’t handle the hedgehog for too long and should place it in a cardboard box lined with a towel so that the hedgehog can hide. The box should be kept in a quiet place and you should place a warm, wrapped hot water bottle in the box so that the hedgehog has a heat source. You should offer the hedgehog food and water, make sure they are settled and then call the British Hedgehog Preservation Society for advice on what to do next.

Hedgehogs are an excellent friend to gardeners and are an important part of British wildlife. It is easy to make your garden a safe haven for our prickly friends and one that they choose to spend time in. By following our advice, you can help preserve these wonderful creatures and give them a helping hand during the harsh winter months – ready for their next adventure in spring.

Annie CorcoranAnnie works for the Primrose product loading team mainly creating web pages and writing product descriptions. When not at her desk you can find her writing for The Independent, re-reading Harry Potter or out for a walk.

See all of Annie’s posts.

Animals, Birds, Conservation, Gardening Year, Gary, Wildlife

garden changes in autumn

As the nights become colder and trees begin to shed their leaves on damp mornings, it becomes clear that the cycle of the seasons has once again turned. Whereas spring is the season of new life and growth, autumn is a time of preparation and winding down for both animal and plant life. The signs of the season are well known to all of us and are easily noticed whenever we go outside, but we can quite easily miss the small changes that take place in our gardens. So, what changes can the penultimate season of the year bring to the microhabitat that is your garden?

Every garden is unique and the changes that occur throughout autumn will be different to each one, but no matter where you are there are some things that you will always be able to see. Around the start of September, you will start noticing the obvious signs of autumn: the leaves will start turning from green to gold and you will see flocks of birds leaving for warmer climates. But if you pay slightly more attention, both plant and animal life will be making subtle changes that betray a natural world in flux.

New Birds

If you have a bird-friendly garden, the start of the season will seem to be a bit of a dead zone as the skies fill with flocks of birds migrating to warmer climates for the winter. It can be tempting to pack away the bird feeders and seeds when you start seeing less activity in your garden. But if you keep up with your normal routine you will start to see some new friends in your garden as those bird species that come to the UK for winter start to appear. By late September you will start to see new species outside your kitchen window. Look out for :

  • Knots
  • Fieldfares
  • Short eared owls
  • Redwings
  • Waxwings

As these newcomers fill your garden, look out for new behaviours in both the new and native species.

Open Chestnut

Fruits and Nuts

Spring is the season we most associate with new life, but for the plants in your garden, mid-August is when the prep stats. It is around this time of the year that you will start to see fruits, nuts and berries ripening just as animal species are starting to collect food for the winter. This timing is not coincidental, by providing food, the plants give the animal species the ability to survive through the winter, and in return, the hard work of dispersing seeds is taken care of by the animals as they continue to search for food.

Fungal Life

Fungi thrive when the warmth of summer and the damp of autumn come together around September. Just as your brambles and trees start to produce fruit, so does the fungal life in your garden. The majority of a fungal organism exists below the ground, however, when the time comes to spore, you will begin to see the fruit of the fungus (the mushroom) begin to sprout. These growths will appear in damp shaded areas. The colours and shapes of these mushrooms are interesting to look at and if you have a guidebook there is a lot to be learned. Just be careful not to touch them without identifying them first, of the over 3,000 species native to the UK only about 50 are non-poisonous.

Mushroom

Increased Animal Activity

Many species hibernate through the winter. To prepare for the long sleep, hibernating species gorge themselves on insects, berries and nuts in the months before the frosts start. As trees begin to fruit, you will inevitably begin to notice an increase in squirrel activity in your garden. You will either see them raiding your garden for everything you have or you will start finding acorns and nuts in weird places around your garden as it becomes a storehouse for the winter.

Hedgehogs may also become a more common sight as they prepare to hibernate, unlike squirrels and dormice these spiky creatures may need a little extra help when it comes to getting prepped. There are a few ways that you can help like putting out dog food and water or putting a Hogitat in your garden

For those of you with rural gardens, you may start to see a whole range of new and interesting behaviours as some animals will start looking for mates at this time of year and you may see deers rutting or birds courting. Keep an eye out, you might be surprised at what you see.

Hedgehog

There is a lot more to be discovered in the autumn than you may think. This list is not exhaustive, but it will give you some idea of what to look out for. Keep your eyes open, the changes are subtle, but they will be happening all around you.

Gary ClarkeGary works in the Primrose product loading team, writing product descriptions and other copy. With seven years as a professional chef under his belt, he can usually be found experimenting in the kitchen or sat reading a book.

See all of Gary’s posts.

Animals, Garden Design, How To, Lotti

In the warm summer months, when I manage to get a day or two off work, there’s nothing better than relaxing in the garden and enjoying the sunshine. I’ve got a pretty good set-up in my garden: my unwieldy parasol (sans parasol holder), my phone and portable speaker, my e-reader, a cool drink and, of course, Tyson: my cat.

Tyson isn’t necessarily the friendliest cat you’ll ever meet, but when you’re in the garden he’s very likely join you as you bask in the sun. Luckily for him, he can come and go as he pleases to enjoy the hot weather or retreat back inside if it gets too warm while the rest of us are at work. We’ve got a pretty big garden, so Tyson’s got a lot of room – but that doesn’t stop him leaping the fence and wandering off to hunt rabbits in the fields at the front of the house.

cat friendly garden
(Oh, to be a cat)

At Primrose, we’re often telling you how to keep cats out of your garden. For us cat-lovers, we’re a lot more interested in how to make your garden more appealing to cats so we can keep our feline friends happy and healthy outside. I’d quite like to encourage my cat to spend more time with me in my garden and less time decimating the local rabbit population. So short of buying my cat his own log cabin, how can I make my garden a Kitty Kingdom?

Plant your cat their own garden

A fragrant garden is often a well-loved garden: from the relaxing scent of lavender which tempts you to drift off to sleep to the sweet smell of honeysuckle, we love planting flowers and plants which come with their own unique scent. So why not treat your cat to their very own bed of aromatic plants in your garden?

When it comes to cat-friendly gardening, there’s three famous plants that every cat lover needs: catnip, catmint and cat grass.

You don’t even need a lot of room to plant your cat his or her very own garden. You can easily plant catnip, grass or mint in several small planters to be placed on a patio or deck. If you’re worried about your cat knocking your planters over, you can use shallow troughs or even cut an old PVC pipe in half and turn that into an upcycled planter. For indoor cats, a pot of catgrass is a great way to help aid their digestion

Catnip

catnip

Catnip is the most potent plant on this list and is famous thanks to the intoxicating effect it has on housecats. Catnip is incredibly appealing to our feline friends who will often be found nibbling the leaves, rolling in the foliage and having a grand old time. If you’ve got a cat, the chances are you’ve given him or her catnip in the past and have enjoyed watching the effect it can have on even the most stoic moggy.

Catnip plants are fairly easy to grow and particularly thrive in sunny or dry areas and spreads quite quickly. If you’re planting catnip for your cat, make sure you plant it alongside other flowers you don’t mind being ruined – or all on its own – as an over-enthusiastic cat can quickly ruin perfectly pruned flowerbeds when feeling the effects of catnip. Catnip can happily grow in a bed or border as well as in pots and planters, so you can even grow it inside if you’ve got an indoor cat. Once grown to about a foot tall, you can begin to harvest and dry your catnip till it’s nice and crumbly, perfect for stuffing in toys or rubbing on posts and cat beds.

Be careful, though: the smell of catnip can be particularly strong and you may find your garden overrun with your neighbours’ cats, eager to find the source of the scent.

Catmint

catmint

While still attractive to cats, catmint tends not to be as potent as catnip and is far more aesthetically pleasing, so is a common site in gardens around the world. Catmint closely resembles lavender, with green stems covered in miniature pastel purple flowers. Not only is catmint popular with cats, it’s also a great way to attract more bumblebees to your garden.

Catmint needs to be planted in spring with plenty of space in between seeds or plants, especially in warmer climates. Catmint can grow quickly and spread far so you may need to trim it regularly to prevent it taking over your garden! Like catnip, catmint can be grown indoors in pots, perfect for indoor cats or for people who don’t have gardens.

Cat grass

If you’ve got a cat, there’s probably a good chance you’ve seen them in your garden chewing on grass. Cats actually eat grass to induce vomiting as a way to remove fur, feathers or small bones from their stomachs – they’re not treating themselves to a tasty salad. Specially grown cat grass is usually grown from barley, wheat or oat seeds which has not been treated with pesticides or other garden chemicals, so is safer for cats to chew on.

What to avoid

When planting a cat friendly garden, there’s several plants you want to avoid which can be toxic or fatal to cats who ingest them. The top culprit is lilies, and if you’ve got a cat in your home you should avoid having lilies in your garden or even cut ones in a vase. There’s several kinds of bulbs which are toxic to cats, including alliums, tulips, hyacinths and daffodils, so it’s important to keep your cat away from these before you plant them. In general, cats are very picky about what they eat (as many cat owners can attest to), so poisoning is fairly rare. Young kittens who are curiously exploring or indoor cats are more at risk as adult outdoor cats are often too preoccupied to think about eating unknown flowers. A full list of plants and flowers that are toxic to cats can be found on the International Cat Care website.

You should also avoid using chemical-based weed or pest killers, especially on grass (which is a popular snack for cats). Make sure that if you are using chemical based pesticides that they’re locked away out of reach when not in use. There’s several organic pest repellants on the market, but it’s also easy to make your own using garlic or hot chilli peppers to keep pests off of your plants, flowers and vegetables.

Cat-friendly garden architecture

If there’s one thing cats love most of all, it’s running around the house at 3am with the intent of waking everyone up. But their second most favourite thing is hiding in the smallest, darkest space they can find – be it a cupboard, a drawer, a discarded box or an old shopping bag, cats love to hide. By planting an area of your garden with tall grasses or shrubs you can provide your cat a private place in your garden away from the comings and goings of the house where your cat can feel safe and relaxed. This is especially useful in summer when your cat is looking for a shady spot to cool off. Bamboo is great for this, as it grows quickly and easily with minimal effort. But be warned: bamboo can grow out of control if you don’t keep an eye on it!

As well as hiding in dark, low spaces cats also love getting up high so they can observe their territory. If you’ve not got a spare twenty years to grow a tree, you can provide your cat with in-built “shelves” on your walls or fences that they can climb and perch, or even use staging so they can reach the top of a shed or garage. Cats will also enjoy sitting on tables and benches, if you don’t want to start building an obstacle course in your garden.

cats on shelving
Thanks to Shazza’s Garden on Primrose Gardens for this photo!

You can also give your cat a sheltered area in which they can relax and sleep. Cats love sleeping outside, even when the weather might seem poor, so they really appreciate an area outside with a roof or shelter where they can enjoy sleeping outside without having to worry about the rain. An old wooden box will do, or you can make your own cat house using wood and roofing felt. You can also provide old cushions or blankets for your cat so he or she has something soft, warm and comfortable to lie on – perfect for placing in sunny spots around your garden.

If you’ve got a lot of room in your garden, you can make your cat their very own adventure playground in a secluded spot on the edge of your lawn. Old logs, planks of wood and ladders provide your cat a fun and safe place to play and climb. You can even hang cat toys around this area so they have something to chase and catch.

Keeping your cat happy & healthy

A cat doesn’t just need somewhere to play and sunbathe (however much they may like us to think that): you also need to make sure that they’re keeping fit and healthy while chasing the butterflies around your flower beds.

The first thing a garden needs is a source of fresh drinking water. Cats can be picky drinkers and many cats prefer a natural source of water, especially running water. Providing collected rainwater alongside tap water is a great idea so your cat has more choice about what sort of water they drink, and having reliable water sources in different places around the garden is a good way to help reduce potential conflicts if you’ve got more than one cat.

To keep cat’s claws in good shape (and to stop them ruining your new sofa), you can also provide something that they can scratch on. An old log, tree stump or branch can help your cat keep their claws in check, as well as being a way for them to leave their scent around your garden. Logs and stumps also provide another place for your cat to sit and rest, perfect for smaller gardens.

cat on tree stump

Lots of cats can benefit from low-impact, low-intensity interactions with their human housemates. Even cats who don’t enjoy being picked up, petted or cuddled can benefit from simply sharing a space with their humans as you both do your own thing. You can also bring cat toys into your garden so you can really encourage your cat to stretch their legs outside. All of this can help your cat develop a better relationship with you, as well as giving them a chance to let our their inner jungle-cat.

Jenny at PrimroseLotti works with the Primrose Product Loading team, creating product descriptions and newsletter headers.

When not writing, Lotti enjoys watching (and over-analyzing) indie movies with a pint from the local craft brewery or cosplaying at London Comic Con.

Lotti is learning to roller skate, with limited success.

See all of Lotti’s posts.

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