Both above and below ground, a well-managed lawn will attract a range of wildlife.
Manage your lawn properly and it can be both a haven for wildlife and a lovely place from which to enjoy your garden and its inhabitants.
Lawns are amazing habitats. On a hot summer’s day, they can look ecologically dead, but with the onset of autumn, the ground gets wetter and suddenly they spring to life, with earthworms coming to the surface to forage, moths and craneflies laying their eggs at night, and birds and mammals feeding on this abundance of food.
Autumn is also the best time to plan how to manage your lawn for the coming year. The key to success is the layout – making the best use of shady, sunny and damp spots. So ensure you have long grassy areas full of wildflowers in the sunny, dry patches and around the edges, woodland plants and grasses in shady areas, and short grassy areas for your own use and where birds and mammals can forage.
You can increase the visual impact of the short-grass areas by planting a wide range of low-lying flowering plants that look pretty and provide food for insects. So get planning: the lawn should be one of the most visually attractive parts of any wildlife garden.
HOW TO MANAGE YOUR LAWN:
- Autumn is the time to scarify your lawn (use a lawn rake to remove dead and thatched vegetation) and aerate it, particularly in waterlogged areas; use a garden fork to dig holes in the lawn every 30cm or so. When you give the lawn a last mow, make it a short cut and apply a good autumn feed.
- If you use your lawn for feeding birds and mammals, it can quickly look tatty, as the oils in many seeds kill patches of grass. So try not to keep feeding in one spot. If you have feeders hanging over the lawn, use trays to catch dropped seeds or move the feeders regularly.
- Spring is the time to repair the damage from the winter. Reseed as necessary, rake up any moss and dead grass, and give the lawn a good short cut.
- Dig out any unwanted plants – unlike plants such as self-heal and white clover, dandelions and plantains tend to kill patches of grass and take over.
- During the summer, never cut the lawn too short – keep it about 5–9cm long. Taller grass is more tolerant of drought, has a larger root structure and is sensuous to walk on with bare feet!
- Don’t forget to enjoy your lawn. Take out a picnic to eat while you listen to the hum of bees on the white clover flowers. Use a field guide to identify the vast array of insects and spiders using the long grassy areas and patches of wildflowers.
12 INVERTEBRATES LIVING IN THE SOIL BENEATH YOUR LAWN
- Ground beetles can often be seen scurrying through the grass on your lawn.
- Earthworms stay deep in their burrows in dry weather, coming to the surface on wet nights.
- Cutworms are noctuid moth caterpillars and feed on grass and other roots.
- Leatherjackets (cranefly larvae) also eat grass roots.
- Centipedes are fast-moving predators that hunt many soil invertebrates.
- Slugs burrow deep into the soil in dry conditions.
- Cockchafers lay their eggs deep underground, where the larvae eat plant roots.
- Sheet-web spiders will weave webs to catch invertebrates on your lawn.
- Curl grub is the collective name for the larvae of several common garden beetles and chafers.
- Shiny red moth pupae found a few centimetres below the surface belong to cutworms.
- Slug and snail eggs are laid in the top layer of soil.
- Wireworms are beetle larvae that resemble mealworms. They eat rotting vegetation and roots.
SIX SPECIES TO LOOK OUT FOR ON AND IN YOUR LAWN:
- Bush-crickets can be very common in gardens. Adults are usually seen in bushes, but nymphs will live in rough vegetation at the lawn edge.
- Speckled wood numbers have increased dramatically in the past few decades. Common in gardens, it lays its eggs on long grass at the edge of lawns.
- White plume moths lie up in long grass in mid-summer. The larvae feed on Convolvulus (bindweed), so let some survive in your garden.
- Wild carrot is a pretty, white mid-summer flower that attracts a range of insects. It is a biennial, so let the seeds fall before you cut them back.
- Hay rattle is both attractive and great for bees. It is semi-parasitic, living on grasses, and also an annual, so allow it to set its seeds.
- Spotted craneflies are commonly found in gardens and lay their eggs in damp soil, where the larvae feed on roots and tubers.
STEVE'S TOP TIPS:
- Late summer is a good time to plant seeds of plants such as hay rattle and wild carrot. Scatter them around the edges of the lawn and in areas where you want the grass to grow long.
- Plants such as cowslip, great knapweed, marjoram, ox-eye daisy, creeping cinquefoil, lady’s bedstraw and meadow cranesbill are best planted as plugs (available from wildflower suppliers). To establish a plug, dig out a small area of lawn, replace with topsoil, insert the plug and keep it well watered.
- Also plant plugs of bird’s-foot trefoil, self-heal and white clover. These are attractive to insects and their prostrate (low-lying) form means that they can survive mowing.
- Whether you should water your lawn or not is a dilemma, but in hot dry summers, many species that feed on invertebrates suffer badly. Watering the lawn keeps earthworms and grubs near the surface, and these can be a lifeline for hedgehogs, fox and badger cubs, and a wide range of birds. Water in the evenings and don’t wait until the grass has gone brown.
- Wherever possible, leave grass cuttings and other organic matter on the lawn – the greater the organic material, the more diversity and abundance of plants and invertebrates. And don’t rake leaves off either – use the mower to shred them.
- Moss can be very attractive in damp areas and around the edges of ponds, but in the main areas it is best to keep it under control by raking in the autumn and spring.
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