August

Our wildlife gardening tasks guides you through year with specific advice for each month. We also highlight different creatures throughout the seasons.

It's getting late in the summer now, and the greenery may be starting to lose its vibrancy. In the UK we generally get rainfall throughout the year, keeping our vegetation from becoming parched, but in parts of the country, and in particularly hot summers you may see signs of stress as some plants begin to yellow and wilt. Animals might need help coping with drought too, birdbaths and garden ponds become more important as summer continues, providing drinking water and a means for many animals to keep cool.

Jobs for the month

  • Top up bird feeders and put out food on the ground and bird tables
  • Avoid chunky foods that could choke young fledglings
  • Keep the bird bath topped up
  • Regularly clean the bird bath and table
  • Plant marigolds around the vegetable patch to attract hoverflies
  • Make piles of logs, twigs and/or rocks to create shelter for wildlife
  • Go on an evening wildlife walk looking for bats, voles, fox and badger cubs
  • Put out hedgehog and badger food
  • Construct a hedgehog hibernation box
  • Watch out for adult frogs and toads leaving the pond
  • Plant annuals and perennials to attract insects
  • Trim hedges less frequently so that wildlife can feed and shelter there
  • Leave nesting birds undisturbed in garden shrubs and hedges
  • Leave roses that produce hips without dead-heading
  • Allow seedheads to develop on some plants as a source of food
  • Summer meadows may be ready for cutting
  • Recently established perennial meadows need mowing to control weeds
  • Annual meadows do not need mowing

Mammals, reptiles and amphibians

Many young mammals born earlier in the season are now out of the nest and visible in the garden. You may spot baby woodmice, shrews, voles, and fox or badger cubs. The evening is the best time to spot many species.

This is peak bat-watching season. British bat species are garden friendly, eating midges and tiny insects that cause annoyance on summer evenings.

Young litters of hedgehogs and badgers are now learning their survival skills. You may see or hear them foraging for food at night. Hedgehog and badger food is available for sale. It is not a good idea to feed hedgehogs with bread and milk, as this is unhealthy for them. Good quality cat and dog food, or raw minced meat mixed with egg, are suitable alternatives.

Birds

A birdbath can be a vital source of drinking water for birds. Ensure that yours is kept topped up. Models are available to attach to windows, walls and sills, if you are limited for space. Do be aware of hygiene: change the water regularly and scrub the bath out with a mild detergent (available from bird food suppliers) to help prevent the spread of disease.

In hot, dry weather, many birds delight in ‘dust-bathing’ as well as splashing in the birdbath. It seems that the dust and the many insects that the birds encourage to crawl over them help to control irritating itchy mites living within their feathers.

Avoid peanuts and large chunks when putting out birdfood, as there is a risk that large pieces could be fed by adults to their fledglings, and they could choke. Safe foods include wildbird seed mixes (but not those containing peanuts or dog biscuit); black sunflower seeds (the birds will remove the outside casing, and the inner seed is soft); mild grated cheese; sultanas, raisins and currants (best soaked overnight); pinhead oatmeal; apples, pears and other soft fresh fruit; mealworms and waxworms. Alternatively, you can buy fat balls from many garden centres and bird food suppliers. This is an easy alternative, and you will be confident that you are doing no harm.

To maximise the numbers of different bird species that you attract to your garden, it is a good idea to cater to their different feeding habits. Hanging bird feeders attract species such as tits, finches and sparrows. There are many models available, designed to help keep out rats, cats, pigeons and squirrels, or to fit onto walls, windows, windowsills and balconies. Bird tables attract robins, house and tree sparrows, doves, pigeons, bullfinches, greenfinches, chaffinches and bramblings. Food scattered on the ground attracts blackbirds, thrushes, dunnocks and wrens.

Hanging bird feeders are best sited over a paved or decked area, which can be regularly swept clear of debris. This may reduce problems with squirrels and vermin, if they prove a nuisance.

Bird tables are best sited a few feet clear of cover or high vegetation, so that cats and other predators cannot launch themselves onto unsuspecting feeding birds. Tables can be quite close to windows or patios, as many birds get used to human activity, and are not put off by us.

Insects

Damselflies and dragonflies are out in abundance. They are usually spotted near ponds and lakes. Damselflies have a lazier, zig-zagging pattern of flight, whereas dragonflies take a faster and more direct flight path. This is their breeding season, and you may see them mating in mid-air, or laying their eggs around the pond.

Pond skaters and water boatmen can be seen skating on the pond surface in search of food.

Hoverflies and ladybirds are in abundance this month. They are both good garden pest catchers, so are to be encouraged. Hoverflies do not sting even though they look similar to wasps - this is just the scary camouflage they use to deter predators. Gardeners have traditionally planted marigolds around the vegetable patch to attract hoverflies as pest control.

Wasps, despite their reputation as fruit blemishing, stinging pests, are good controllers of many garden pests, including flies and grubs. They are also useful pollinators of flowers.

This is flying ant season, when hundreds of winged ants emerge from their nests and fly up in the air to mate. It all happens in about a quarter of an hour. After mating, the females bite off their own wings and crawl off to start another nest. You may see crowds of winged males swarming aimlessly round the garden - a feast for birds and other predators - once mating is over.

Plants

Be less frequent with your hedge trimming to provide greater shelter and food for wildlife.

Don’t deadhead roses that produce hips. The colourful hips are decorative and a useful source of food for wildlife.

Wait for the seed heads of wild flowers and insect-attracting blooms to ripen (usually when they start to shed seed naturally), then pluck off the heads and shake them over a chosen area of bare soil where you would like to have wild flowers next year. Many flowers - poppies for example - take easily from this kind of casual sowing.

Meadows

Summer- and spring/summer-flowering meadows may be ready for cutting and mowing this month, after any bulb foliage has died down naturally. Scything and removal of clippings is all that is necessary, but closer mowing allows the area to be used as lawn for the rest of the summer. Meadow cuttings were traditionally used for making hay, but they can also be used on the compost heap - just remove any pernicious or flowering weeds, so that they don’t spread in the compost.

Recently sown perennial meadows should be mown about six to eight weeks after sowing, when they reach a height of 5-10cm (2-4in), and then again every couple of months in their first year, removing the cuttings each time. This helps to control weeds and to toughen up the meadow plants. A stronger healthier meadow will be the end result.

Recently sown annual wildflower meadows do not need mowing. Just leave them to finish flowering, set seed and die down naturally. Be aware that they will only last one year, and will die back completely in the autumn. If you are lucky, some of the plants will have re-seeded themselves and may come back next spring. However, you will probably need to supplement this with new sowings.

  • Swallow. Credit: © GardenWorldImages.com

    Swallow

    Hirundo rustica

    Watching the airborne feeding manoeuvres of swallows is one of the great pleasures of summer. Now, as they prepare for the long journey to Africa, they begin to congregate and can often be seen lined up together on telegraph wires. These birds will soon be travelling incredible distances, some going as far as South Africa where they will stay before returning here to breed next spring.

  • Frog. Credit: Richard Burkmar

    Common frog

    Rana temporaria

    Tadpoles will all have developed into juvenile frogs by now and most will vanish from the pond by early August. You may often see them at night, foraging for insects in wet grass. If not don't despair, chances are this won't be the last you see of your frogs. Most will return year after year, to breed in the ponds in which they were born.

  • Black garden ant. Credit: Richard Burkmar

    Black garden ant

    Lasius nigers

    Often seen busily searching the garden gathering supplies for the colony, the black garden ant is a familiar sight to everyone. The wingless individuals that are most commonly seen are the workers, sterile females that form the bulk of the colony. But every year around this time when climatic conditions are right, larger, winged ants emerge to mate. Generally all the ants in an area will emerge on the same day, filling the air. After mating females bite off their own wings and proceed to look for a new place to start colony. The males' role is over, and they will shortly die.

  • Broad-bodied chaser dragonfly. Credit: RHS

    Broad-bodied chaser dragonfly

    Libellula depressa

    A garden pond, with plenty of insects and vegetation for perching, is good habitat for dragonflies. At this time of year these will be actively hunting, darting through the air in an attempt to catch prey. Broad-bodied chasers are often the first dragonflies to colonise a new pond so are one of the easiest to see in your garden. If you see one you will understand how it gets its name; they have larger, chunkier bodies than most insects you're likely to see in your garden. The colourful shapes of diverse dragonflies, darting in the sunlight, is a wonderful touch in any garden.