We asked some gardening and wildlife experts for their tips on how to maintain your garden and look after your local wildlife in the cold months...
1. Dig over your soil
The essential spring job is digging and preparing, just as long as the ground isn’t waterlogged or frozen. Digging and forking the soil allows you to loosen it, remove weeds and add compost or manure, which will improve soil structure and create a moisture and food reserve for plants.
“There’s nothing better than digging and breathing in the smell of the soil as you turn it over, knowing that your efforts will be rewarded with some great tasting veg or fabulous flowers.”
“The most important job for me is pruning and shaping our shrub roses. Start by removing any dead or diseased branches, prevent damage by cutting back sections which rub against each other and reduce exceptionally long branches by one third of their length.”
Protect any tender herbs from frost. January and February are usually the coldest months. Bay, myrtle, olive and French lavender can be brought undercover or near the house if in containers, or covered in fleece in situ. Put a cloche over thyme you use for cooking and it will stay leafier. Prune wisteria and grape vines if they have not been done already. On any frost-free days, plant bare root or container trees, shrubs, hedging, fruit bushes and canes.
For wildlife, consider planting native trees and shrubs such as guelder rose, yew, holly, hawthorn or blackthorn. Berries will provide natural bird food and cover for nesting and roosting is always needed. Report any sightings of weasels to the Mammal Society - they are possibly getting very rare. Chris Ick, The National Herb Centre
7. Provide for the birds
Birds need a range of food provided in different ways and kept as clean as possible. Water is just as important as natural resources freeze up - create a pond or water feature and make sure birdbaths stay ice-free (a floating ball does the job, and if it freezes take the ball out to leave a hole).
Create leaf piles in quiet corners of the garden border or leave a swathe of grass uncut; these offer mini-beasts places to spend the winter and provide ground feeding birds somewhere to forage. To help birds with springtime nesting, put out the fur from pet grooming so that birds can use the fur and line their nests (February and March and onwards). The RSPB has plenty of further information on how to help birds through the winter. RSPB