March

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.

In March the transition is made from harsh winter to bounteous spring. But until this transition is complete times are still hard for our wildlife. A late spring can mean death for many animals, exhausted after fighting the long winter months and unable to hold on for the last few weeks. And false springs can bring species out of hibernation too early, only to meet with wintery conditions again. But those that do survive the winter are richly rewarded when warmer weather arrives; food becomes plentiful, and for most a new kind of challenge begins as the breeding season arrives.

Jobs for the month

  • Put up nesting boxes for birds
  • Top up bird feeders and put food out on the ground and bird table
  • Avoid chunky foods that might cause young fledglings to choke
  • Keep the bird bath topped up
  • Regularly clean bird baths and tables
  • Introduce frogspawn to your pond
  • Put out hedgehog and badger food
  • Make your pond more wildlife friendly
  • Put out log, twig and/or rock piles to create shelter for wildlife
  • Build a compost bin while you still have time!
  • Sow or plant a wildflower meadow
  • Buy and hang a bee nesting box

Mammals, reptiles and amphibians

Frogs, toads and hedgehogs emerge from hibernation as the weather gets milder.

Frogs and toads usually mate around this time, the males calling for females in the evenings. If you have a pond, you may see it come alive with squirming amphibians and foaming spawn. You can tell spawns apart by looking more closely: frogspawn is usually in jelly-like clumps; toad spawn is in long double strands; newt spawn is laid individually on the stems of pondweeds, and is usually the last to appear. Goldfish eat tadpoles so do not introduce spawn into fishponds.

If you want to make an existing formal pond more wildlife friendly, you could phase out the fish, add ‘steps’ to counteract steep sides (so that birds, mammals and amphibians can enter and exit more easily), soften the edges with marginal planting (which will also provide hiding and breeding places for wildlife), and introduce a few native species to an otherwise exotically planted pond. Suitable examples include marsh marigold (Caltha palustris), water mint (Mentha aquatica) and yellow flag iris (Iris pseudacorus). Be aware that native species can be more vigorous than some non-native species, and regular thinning is therefore advised.

Hedgehog and badger food is now available for sale. It is not a good idea to feed hedgehogs with bread and milk, as this is not their natural diet. Dog food is an alternative.

Foxes and badgers are less in evidence at this time of year, as they are likely giving birth to their cubs underground.

Birds

You may see birds flitting backwards and forwards as they gather nesting materials this month. You might be woken by the spring dawn chorus in most areas with even a bit of greenery.

Put up nesting boxes for birds, to increase their choice of nesting sites. You could hang a nest box opposite a window, in the hope of seeing the mother coming and going from the nest. Boxes hung on walls can be safer from cats and other predators than those hung on trees. A north or north-east facing position is best, as strong sun can make nest boxes uninviting. Choose a height suitable for the bird species in your garden, after doing a little research.

When choosing nesting boxes, consider their design before buying. Woodcrete (a mixture of concrete and sawdust) can be a better material than wood, as it is cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. Different designs may be more or less suitable for particular species, and it is worth doing a little research. Combined nest boxes and feeding tables are not usually popular with wild birds, and can be unhygienic. Bird food catalogues often have helpful information about available products, as do the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the British Trust for Ornithology and The Wildlife Trusts.

When putting out bird food, it is best to avoid peanuts and large chunks, as there is a risk that large pieces could be fed by adult birds to their fledglings, and this could result in choking. 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 can be confident that you will be 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, wrens, fieldfares and redwings.

Hanging bird feeders are best sited over a paved or decked area, which can be regularly swept clear of debris. This may help to reduce problems with rats, 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 seem to get used to human activity, and are unlikely to be put off by coincidental human activity.

A bird bath 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. Changing the water regularly, and scrubbing the bath out with a mild detergent (available from bird food suppliers) can help to prevent the spread of disease.

Insects

Butterflies emerge as temperatures rise and sunshine increases - brimstones, commas and even early cabbage whites in warm spells.

Remember that insects are gardeners’ friends as well as foes! They are natural pest controllers, and will keep each other’s populations down to manageable levels once your garden has got back into a natural balance.

Bee homes are now widely available. Initial reports suggest that nesting boxes for colony-forming bees (such as bumble and honey bees) are not always effective, but homes for solitary bees (such as mason bees), made from tubes and tunnels in boxes, are more successful. They are also attractive. Models with a backing are more successful than those open at both ends. This kind of bee house is easy to make at home. Even a tin can filled with straws will do the job. South-facing positions, hanging at chest height or above, are best. Bees usually colonise these homes in spring, hibernating over winter to emerge the following spring. The boxes can be left out over winter, or taken down and stored in a safe place to avoid bees being eaten by predators.

Plants

You may wish to identify a suitable part of the garden to leave untouched as a wildlife area. A small patch behind a shed is perfectly fine if you’re worried about it looking untidy.

Now could be the last month you will have time to build a wooden compost bin or a leafmould pen, if you do not have these in your garden already. They will be ready for all the debris produced by the new growing season. Alternatively, open heaps of piled debris rot down just as well, but take longer to do so. Generally, the larger the heap, the quicker it rots, as more heat builds up within.

You may wish to sow or plant a wildflower meadow. You should prepare the ground, if you did not do so last month. You will need to create a seedbed if you wish to sow wild flower seed. Annual cornflower seed mix gives an instant display in the first year. Perennial seed mixes take two years to flower, and may be less dramatic in their appearance. An alternative is to spray a weed killer containing glyphosate, on patches of the existing grass. Plug plants can be sourced to grow on, and to then plant in the bare patches. This will only work where the existing grass is not very vigorous. Rye grasses can overwhelm meadow flowers. If you do have rye grass, another option is to over-seed with yellow rattle. This is an annual parasitic plant that can be sown directly on to grass, gradually weakening it, and hopefully self-seeding from year to year, producing pretty yellow flowers.

All wildlife

Put out log and twig piles made from old prunings and felled trees. These provide valuable shelter for wildlife, and can be made into attractive features by planting up with ferns, primroses, or other suitable plants. A site well away from the house should ensure that unwanted creepy crawlies do not stray into domestic rooms.

Piles of slabs or rockery stones will act as a suitable wildlife habitat, as will old bales of straw, hay or prunings.

Corrugated iron or plastic laid on the soil can provide ‘tunnel’ hiding places for small reptiles and mammals looking for shelter and warmth.

  • Song thrush. Credit: Ian Rose

    Song thrush

    Turdus philomelos

    Song thrush are territorial, and at this time of year males of the species are vociferous in announcing their presence. They can often be seen perched in any elevated location, loudly proclaiming their territory with a series of repeated phrases from a vast repertoire of different calls. Listen out for mimicry of other birds or of manmade sounds.

  • Hedgehog. Credit: Wildstock

    Hedgehog

    Erinaceus europaeus

    With the arrival of warmer weather, animals begin to emerge from hibernation. Hedgehogs are one of the species that you might start to see in March, having spent all winter sheltering in hibernation nests beneath vegetation. As with all hibernating species they are at risk if they awake too early; if you see a one staggering as if drunk, then it is probably suffering from hypothermia and is unlikely to survive unless placed in a warm place and given food. Look for hedgehogs at night, foraging for invertebrates.

  • Newt. Credit: WildNet/David Longshaw

    Common newt

    Triturus vulgaris

    Newts will be leaving hibernation at this time of year, arriving in ponds and beginning courtship. Common newts are nocturnal, so to see them in action take a torch down to your garden pond one night. Shine a beam of light onto the water and you may be lucky enough to see male newts conducting courtship displays, vibrating their tails in front of females. But remember that the light will disturb them so always be respectful.

  • Marmalade fly. Credit: Richard Burkmar

    Marmalade fly

    Episyrphus balteatus

    As spring flowers open, early species of hoverfly will appear. Among these you might find the beautifully coloured marmalade fly, with its striking orange and black bands. There are hundreds of hoverfly species in the UK, appearing at different times of year. The adult marmalade fly, like most hoverflies, feeds on nectar and plays an important role in pollination. The larvae feed on aphids, making them a welcome addition to most gardens.

  • Common brimstone. Credit: © GardenWorldImages.com

    Common brimstone

    Gonepteryx rhamni

    Brimstones are often the first butterflies to emerge in the spring. The upper wings of the male are a bright yellow and the females' an off-white colour. However they can be harder to spot when at rest, when they hold their wings closed and closely resemble green leaves. The first butterfly of spring is one of the most uplifting sights of the year, so be sure to keep an eye out on sunny March days.