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How to improve your outdoor space for nature: food from plants

Updated: May 21, 2019

Food from plants sustains all life on earth and almost all parts of the plant are useful to something. Here’s a list of things you can provide in your green space to support the natural world.

Leaves provide food for a wide variety of animals

Leaves

As I’ve already mentioned in a previous blog, plant leaves are good for worms, keep them well fed and healthy and they will be able to cope with some worms. Aphids are also the bane of many gardeners lives, but they are fantastic food for baby birds so keep your plants healthy and they should be able to cope with a certain number of aphids. If aphids are a huge problem then a great solution is to hang a bird feeder near the infested plants. Birds who come in for the seeds in the feeder will sit plucking aphids off plants while they wait their turn. When I had colony of starlings living nearby I put out a fat feeder for them, and not only did they love the feeder but they spent hours foraging through the ivy nearby hunting for the plentiful snails hidden amongst the leaves.


Flowers

Flowers provide nectar and pollen for many flying insects from bees and butterflies to hoverflies and moths. Most people know that having lots of flowering plants is great for nature in your outdoor space. If you want to give nature a helping hand develop a space that has flowers from as early in the year as possible to as late as possible. Some plants flower very early, such as fruit trees and these will support early bumblebees and other insects as they emerged in the spring. Other plants flower later in the year such as ivy and are a great support for the last of the insects before they die off or hibernate in the winter. Suplement those two seasons with a healthy selection of flowering plants to span across the summer. Plants the flowers continuously for months at a time, like herbs are great for wildlife.


Berries and fruit

With flowering and fruiting plants, especially if you are working with a very small space, try to get maximum bang for your buck. So either get in flowering plants that flower for a long time or go for plants that produce nectar bearing flowers followed by edible fruits. They don’t have to be edible by humans to be great for birds and mammals. Birds can eat some berries that are poisonous for us. They will also go for berries that are either tasteless to us or taste horrible, so again, watch the local wildlife, see which plants they go for and pick those for your garden.


Decaying wood and leaves

There is a large group of insects and worms that live of dead and decaying wood and leaves. So once your plants have dropped their leaves, or whenever you are pruning, it’s worth keeping the cuttings. You can be tidy and gather the whole lot into a compost pile or designate a part of the garden for it or you can just leave it tucked up under shrubs and in quiet corners. These insects form the backbone of your web of life. They eat the dead and decaying plants and in turn are eaten by a wide variety of other animals from birds to small mammals (badgers love earthworms and, surprisingly, they form a large part of the animal’s diet).

The only time you don’t want to keep the cuttings from your plants are if they’re diseased. Plants with discoloured leaves or leaves that are deformed may well be infected with a virus. If you add their clippings to your compost pile you’ll be spreading the virus. Either dispose of the cuttings off site to ensure the virus doesn’t spread around your garden.


Even dead and decaying leaves provide food



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