July

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

The colours of spring are much reduced now, giving way to rich green countryside where lush vegetation soaks up the summer sun. On hot days you may find midday increasingly quiet, as many animals avoid the oppressive temperatures. But the buzz of insects still permeates the air, and the strong scents of plant activity are all around. As at any time of year, there's work to be done for humans and animals alike. But it's good to take the example set by many species and reserve a bit of time each day for basking in the sun.

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 bat-watching on a summer evening!
  • Put out hedgehog and badger food
  • Construct a hedgehog hibernation box
  • Watch out for adult frogs and toads leaving the pond this month
  • Plant annuals and perennials to attract insects
  • Trim hedges less frequently to allow wildlife to shelter and feed in them
  • Leave nesting birds undisturbed in garden shrubs and hedges
  • Cut spring meadows once bulb foliage has died down
  • Mow recently established perennial meadows to reduce weeds
  • Annual meadows do not need mowing
  • Leave roses that produce hips without dead-heading

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.

Corrugated iron or plastic laid on the soil can provide warm tunnels for small reptiles, amphibians and mammals to hide in.

Birds

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. They can be quite close to the window or patio, as many birds get used to human activity, and are not then put off by us.

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.

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 are in abundance this month. They are good garden 'pest catchers', so are to be encouraged. They 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 to their crops 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.

Plants

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

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

Spring-flowering meadows can be cut and mowed this month, after the 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 wildflowers do not need mowing. Just leave them to develop and flower, but be aware they will only last one year, and will die back completely in the autumn.

  • Spotted flycatcher. Credit: © GardenWorldImages.com

    Spotted flycatcher

    Muscicapa striata

    These are long distance migrants that rarely stick around long. Having arrived in May they will probably be on their second brood by now, and be thinking about leaving soon. Hardly surprising considering the distances these birds travel, some British breeding birds having been found as far away as South Africa. Quite a feat for a small animal. You might find them nesting on walls; well established ivy provides a good site, as do holes and ledges. These birds tend to return to the same niches every year so may become a familiar summer fixture in your garden.

  • Brown long-eared bat. Credit: Hugh Clark

    Brown long-eared bat

    Plecotus auritus

    With plenty of insects around in the summer months, bats continue to be a feature of the night sky. Brown long-eared bats are our second most common bat, after the pipistrelle, and can often be seen in gardens. In July the young of the species should be making their first flights. Identifying bats is always hard, with the view usually being no more than a fast, fluttering shape in the dark, but if you do catch a glimpse of its ears you will see where its name comes from. At three quarters the length of the head and body they are quite impressive.

  • Newt. Credit: WildNet/David Longshaw

    Common newt

    Triturus vulgaris

    The breeding season is over, tadpoles have become juvenile newts, and it's time to return to land. Common newts are mainly terrestrial, occupying ponds only during the breeding season. During the day they will mostly be found hiding in damp habitats, under stones or in compost heaps and log piles. You might find them wandering around your garden at night, searching for invertebrates which they catch by projecting their tongues.

  • Common lizard. Credit: Neil Aldridge

    Common lizard

    Lacerta vivipara

    On summer days you may find common lizards basking in the sunshine, heating their bodies before going off to hunt for food. These are less common in British gardens than they are in southern European areas, but in more rural areas hot July days will bring lizards scurrying among rocks, walls, logs, etc. in search of prey.

  • Painted lady butterfly. Credit: Richard Burkmar

    Painted lady butterfly

    Cynthia cardui

    A migrant species, painted lady butterflies spend the winter months in North Africa, Central Asia and the Middle East. In some years they arrive in the UK in much larger numbers than usual at which times you may find dozens of them congregating on buddleia and other butterfly-friendly plants. These butterflies are strong fliers and range widely, so tend to be very well distributed within the UK and can be found in gardens across the country.