How to Help Garden Wildlife Survive the Winter

by KathleenDuffy

The wildlife that inhabits the garden throughout the spring, summer and autumn months will benefit from a little human intervention during cold winter days.

Winter can be a struggle for garden wildlife. However, with a little time and effort from us it is possible to help it survive through those periods when food and shelter may be at a premium.

Garden wildlife may seem to disappear in the cold winter months. However, our friends are merely sleeping, some may be hibernating completely, others occasionally venturing out to seek food or find more efficient shelter.

Whatever their habits, the welfare of garden wildlife during the bleak winter is still our concern, for their presence in our gardens is not only a necessity but a pleasure and joy.

Therefore, most gardeners would agree that we owe it to our garden companions to help them through the winter months so that they'll be around to bring us pleasure in the spring!

Looking After Birds in the Winter Garden

Bird Table in Winter
Bird Table in Winter

It is vitally important to ensure that the bird feeder is kept chock full during the winter months. Add a suet ball too, as the fat gives much-needed energy.

vintage drawing of winter suet feederCommercial suet balls are available, although both adults and children may enjoy making their own.  You'll find a recipe with illustrated instructions if you follow this link.

Birds appreciate fruit and berries too. So if you have any windfall apples just leave a few on the ground or bird table for the birds to feed on.

If there isn’t a bird bath in the garden it would be a good idea to install one, checking for ice daily. Apart from providing drinking water, the birds can also keep their feathers clean, thus ensuring good heat insulation.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has a website full of information that you may find useful all the year round.  Find out more by clicking on this link.


Why Not Make Your Own Bird Projects?

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Looking After Frogs, Toads and Newts in the Winter Garden

If you are lucky enough to have frogs, toads or newts in the garden then winter is the time to repay all their hard work in keeping slugs and bugs at bay. Provide a rock pile for these garden friends so that they can shelter from the cold. Place it near a pond if possible, and make sure it faces north to avoid extremes of temperature.

Smooth Newt
Smooth Newt
Common Frog
Common Frog

In case there are amphibians dozing in the mud at the bottom of the pond, place a couple of tennis balls on the surface so the pond won’t totally freeze over. In this way your aquatic chums will have access to oxygen.

Be careful when turning over the compost heap. This is a natural, warm duvet for frogs, toads and newts. They are also partial to piles of leaves, abandoned plant pots and stones. So tread carefully in the winter garden.

Compost Heap
Compost Heap

Looking After Insects in the Winter Garden

All the nooks and crannies around the garden are sheltering havens for a variety of hibernating insect life.

Butterflies dream away the winter in garages, sheds, piles of sacking and even household curtains. Under the bark of logs, snuggled in little cracks in window and door frames are lacewings, wasps and ladybirds. Leaf litter and holes in the ground may shelter bumblebees.

A log pile in Winter
A log pile in Winter

To ensure insect survival, if possible refrain from dusting, painting, digging or clearing out these areas. Save it until spring when everything is awake once more.

To help insects in winter, bamboo makes an excellent home for hibernation. Tie up the shortened stems into clumps and leave them in the garden in a dry area. The same can be done with sunflower stems. These modern ‘cube homes’ will be greatly appreciated.

For insects that are still around in late autumn and early winter a good source of food energy is a sponge soaked in a mixture of sugar and water.

Looking After Hedgehogs in the Winter Garden

Hedgehogs have a precarious time of it in winter. Nearly half of them die from starvation. They need a warm place to hibernate, so providing a leaf pile is a good idea.

A Young Hedgehog
A Young Hedgehog

Better still, make a hedgehog house. You can find instructions for a hedgehog house on the website of the British Hedgehog Preservation Society – a site that is a mine of information about this well-loved and useful garden friend.  On the home page click on the drop-down menu 'Leaflets' and then click on 'Homes'. Just follow this link.

You Can Buy Hedgehog Homes Ready Made

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As with the other animals mentioned here, hedgehogs may settle in compost heaps so try to leave the heap undisturbed through winter.

In late autumn start providing water in a dish and a little dog or cat food. The meat will help them to put on weight. Once winter sets in however, cease feeding the hedgehogs so that they will hibernate.

Garden in Winter
Garden in Winter

Look After Garden Wildlife This Winter

Depending on where you live there may be other species of wildlife to consider.  This is just a few suggestions to get you started on thinking about winter help for our wildlife neighbours.

Even if, like me, you only have a tiny balcony creatures such as birds and insects will be drawn to this area if you ensure there is food available and sheltering pots.  Try not to clean up the space too much - leave it until spring. 

Winter can be a bit of a dreary time, but ensuring our garden is a safe haven for wildlife can make us see the beauty of it and how the harshness of winter is a necessary stage in the cycle of life. 



  • Website of Royal Society for the Protection of Birds
  • Website of British Hedgehog Preservation Society
  • "10 ways to help wildlife survive winter" in Gardeners' World Magazine, November 2009
Updated: 06/08/2013, KathleenDuffy
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KathleenDuffy on 06/09/2013

Ii think pesticides have a lot to answer for.

lobobrandon on 06/09/2013

Oh that's sad to hear. The numbers here are decreasing as well, but we still have plenty. But over the years they've drastically reduced as there aren't many blossoming gardens anymore.

KathleenDuffy on 06/09/2013

Jptanabe : yes, hedgehogs are so sweet! And so is your cat !

Lobobrandon: there's not many bees around these days so anything that helps keep them safe is welcome I guess. Thanks for your comment. :)

lobobrandon on 06/09/2013

I didn't know you get those kind of bee hives for gardens. Thought it was just for large honey industries and stuff. Nice read :)

jptanabe on 06/08/2013

Seems like most of our wildlife has survived the recent winter pretty well! I didn't know hedgehogs had such a hard time - I remember them from living in Scotland, quite cute!

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