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How to Improve your Outdoor Space for Nature: Providing Food

Apples on an apple tree with a bright blue sky behind.
Plants provide much of the food for animals on Earth

Food in nature is diverse, every plant or animal has different requirements. The good news is that you just need to make a few additions and tweaks to vastly increase the amount of food available

Plants provide a source of food for a wide diversity of animals from worms to insects to birds and small mammals and all the way up to humans. So it’s important to provide your plants with a good basic maintenance regime. What does this mean? Give them water, don’t let them dry out, and give them plant food. You can buy plant food or make your own, either way, a bit of extra nutrition will help your plants to put out more leaves, flowers and fruit. A healthy plant is also better able to fend off disease and cope with pests so it pays to keep them well looked after.

As I said before plants are the primary source of food for almost everything else that lives outdoors. Some animals will eat their leaves, some will drink the nectar and take the pollen from their flowers and some will eat the fruit or nuts that they produce. But how do you decide which is the best plant to provide all these things?

Choose local

The world of nature is divided up into native and non-native varieties. Native plants and animals arrived in their country millennia ago and have evolved to be well adapted to their country and climate. They have co-evolved with the other natives so they are more likely to interact with each other, feed and live off each other. It is therefore a good choice is to pick native plants. Most garden centre staff will be able to tell you which plants are native. If you want to get hyper native you can try and find plants and seeds that come from plants that have been cultivated in your part of the country. You can be certain that they are the best adapted to the conditions matching your green space.

Non-natives can also provide some food and shelter so you don’t have to avoid them entirely. Garden centres will, again, be able to tell you which of their plants are wildlife friendly. The RHS website also lets you search for wildlife friendly plants.

If you are in doubt about how bee and butterfly friendly a plant is then try the bee test. Bees will go for anything with nectar, they neither know nor care if they’re native. Stand around for a while in a park, garden centre or garden and watched the animals. Great nectar plants will attract bees so any plant you see with a happily humming collection of bees hovering around them are likely to be good.

Flowers that are good for wildlife also tend to be single blooms, i.e. Not lots of petals. They also don’t have very long trumpets, which makes it difficult for insects to get at the nectar (unless they’ve specifically evolved to do so).

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