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'Planting what you enjoy will make both you and wildlife happy, but make sure you avoid invasive species,' says Tom McCarter, our Head of Gardens. Planting a diversity of shrubs, climbers and small trees, he adds, can help boost biodiversity. October to April is prime planting time, so have your spade at the ready.
Urban gardens and balconies might be small, but they are important places for insects, birds and other animals to find food and shelter. In fact, garden flowers in our cities and towns can provide insect pollinators with up to 85% of the nectar they need.
In some cases, our love of flowering plants means that urban areas are home to more of some pollinator species than surrounding rural areas. So, what should we be planting?
A study of Bristol gardens found that when it comes to available nectar, it's not the size of your balcony or garden that's the most important thing, it's what you do with it. The researchers found that planting a range of flowering plants will best provide nectar over the warmer months. They recommend planting nectar-rich shrubs, and plants that flower in late summer and autumn.
In the 59 gardens the researchers looked at, non-native plants provided 91% of all nectar. Out of these plants, fuchsia, provided well over half of that nectar from July to October.
Birds such as blue tits might visit your garden to find food. By planting small trees, shrubs and climbers that provide a home for caterpillars, you can help provide these birds with their next meal.
Many caterpillars only eat the leaves of one kind of plant, so planting a range of species in a hedge, such as hawthorn, blackthorn, hazel, barberry, beech, spindle and privet, will encourage a variety of butterfly and moth caterpillars.
It's better to plant trees from October to April because during these months they're dormant and so are less likely to suffer damage.
Find out more about how to plant trees and which species are native to your area by reading the Woodland Trust's advice.
Sam Thomas, our UK Biodiversity Officer, says 'if you're planting for wildlife, you should consider native plants, as they tend to support more species'. But adds that 'any plant is better than nothing as long as you’re careful to avoid invasive species’.
Native trees and shrubs are more likely to provide food and shelter for UK wildlife because they've evolved alongside them for thousands of years.
If you're thinking about growing a native species, Sam says you can go one step further and plant a species with local provenance. These are species that are adapted to growing in your area. Planting locally grown trees also reduces the risk of spreading pests and diseases from one area to another via seeds or saplings.
Trees and shrubs will have preferences for the type of soil as well as the amount of sun and water they need, so it's good to be aware of what they like so your plant can thrive. Sam says it's all about putting the right tree in the right place!
Here at the Museum, we're exploring the impacts of climate change as part of our Urban Nature Project.
We're looking to the future by planting Mediterranean species, such as cork oaks and stone pines, in our new gardens.
Our scientists will be collecting and monitoring biodiversity in our gardens to see how nature uses and adapts to these new plant species.
Many urban plants, particularly in the south of the UK, are showing increasing signs of heat stress and drought due to the impact of climate change. This is a particular problem for street plants that have their roots covered in concrete or pavement.
If you live in the south of the UK and have a particularly hot, sunny or well-drained garden, it's probably worth thinking about planting some trees and shrubs that would traditionally grow in the south of Spain, such as olive, holm oak and fig trees.
These plants are more drought and heat tolerant than native UK species. If you can, its best to plant these species alongside each other so your garden will thrive in current and future climates.
Juniper and cypress trees are very climate resilient and provide a lot of shelter in the winter for nesting birds, small mammals and invertebrates. The fruits of the juniper tree are eaten by birds such as the mistle thrush.
Even though they're not native to the UK, these non-native species can still create habitats for insects as well as places for mammals and birds to shelter. On top of this, they also provide benefits such as cooling shade, helping to reduce flooding, carbon capture, air purifying and boosts to wellbeing.
If you're thinking of growing species that originate outside the UK, check that they're not invasive. Bringing invasive species into the country can harm the environment, particularly when they out-compete our native species, becoming so abundant that they leave native species nowhere to grow.