How Wasps Help Gardeners

Wasps often get a bad rap. While gardeners and nature lovers have welcomed bees, wasps are often sprayed, chased, and misunderstood. Yet, according to an article by Emily Osterloff for the Natural History Museum, wasps are successful managers of the insect populations in gardens. Without their presence, gardeners would be battling far higher numbers of caterpillars, aphids, and spiders.

In the same article, Dr Gavin Broad of The Natural History Museum (NHM) explains the adult wasps’ need for sugar. While their offspring feed on insects, adult wasps need nectar. They visit flowers with accessible nectar. Although they’re not a specialist pollinator like some bees, they pollinate some flowers thanks to their nectar collections. Gardeners, don’t shoo away the wasp, who could be pollinating your herbs, flowers, and fruits, alongside bees and hoverflies.

This urgent need for sugar is why, at this time of year (late summer), wasps stray from the flowers and buzz around pub gardens, picnics, and kitchens. They’re not after you. You’ve got this paradise of sugar. They’re after your cake, your pint…sugar please guys, sugar needed urgently.

Here a desperate adult wasp popped into the kitchen and inspected every single cupboard, so I gave it a little sugar water outside (below).

Sugar water for a desperate wasp

They can seem alarming, if they’re protecting their nest or if you’ve ever been stung. Their bold search around picnics and pubs can create conflict with humans, as can their choice of nesting sites. Check out my page about Wildlife Gardening with Wasps for tips on managing wasps in a wildlife-friendly way.
Yes, they are misunderstood, but they are a vital species in our wildlife ecosystems. Dr Broad at the NHM also said if wasps are not doing well, it’s a sign the natural area isn’t either. Give them a space in a wild part of your plot/garden (away from your home/space), like you would with bees. Give a wasp some flowers, a wild home and… your sugar.

6 Steps to Attract Frogs & Toads In Your Garden

A wildlife-friendly garden includes, where possible, space for frogs, toads, and newts. If you make room for these amphibian little fellows, you could get a helpful pest manager in return, thanks to their appetite for slugs, snails, and insects. Plenty of gardens are host to frogs and toads without the presence of a large pond. Check out these 6 steps to encourage them into your garden or plot.

Sheltering Shrubs

1. Add shrubs to your garden

Give these quiet frogs and toads somewhere they can live, hide, and shelter. The same goes for most mammals and birds: they need places they can dive into for cover, and they need a spot where they can make a home and feel sure they’ll remain undisturbed. Shrubs of varying sizes are perfect. Examples of shrubs in this wildlife garden include euonymus, hebes, buddleia, box hedging, cranesbill geraniums, and laurels. Choose shrubs which carpet the soil, so that small amphibians can hide easily underneath the foliage.

A Home for Frogs and Toads

2. Add pots or logs behind a shrub, shed, or greenhouse

Amphibians like damp places. These are easily created in a garden using upturned logs, or upturned pots. Alternatively, you can get ‘frogilos’, which are purpose-made terracotta pots with a hole for a door (a little froggy bungalow). If using pots, opt for a more natural (ie breathable) material like terracotta so air and water flows through it. Our frogs have made the most of a pile of leftover terracotta pots behind a greenhouse. The pots are damp and covered in fallen leaves, producing this slightly wild, untouched area that clearly the frogs prefer.

Home: frogs live in these pots which have been covered in leaves and left alone

Water Provision

You do not actually need a pond to attract frogs and toads….but it helps them if you can add a little one! It depends what your garden’s neighbouring environment contains. For example, in the suburban garden I currently share, there is no pond. Nevertheless, there are at least 2 resident frogs every summer. This is because the garden is full of food and shrubs and there are ponds in neighbouring gardens.

Although we do not have a pond, we have water bowls around the garden, where birds and mammals can take a drink. The frogs have been spotted having a little dip in them. Add as much water as you can, even if only a bowl or shallow pot. Garden ponds have been a lifesaver for UK amphibians, according to YPTE’s amphibian factsheet.

Add water to help amphibians

3. Add water bowls. A pet water bowl is suitable. These could be around 12cm diameter and around 3-5cm deep so a frog could sit in it and cool off in a hot summer.

4. If there’s no pond in any neighbouring garden or land, make your own mini pond. Use a small pot, a washing-up bowl, or a porcelain sink. Place it in the soil, or in your grass. Make sure it is shallow enough for the frogs and toads to escape. They need a ramp – otherwise, if it is too big for them to jump out, they can get stuck in water.

Food for Frogs and Toads

Attract insects, worms, slugs, and snails to your garden. Yes, I know. I’m a gardener encouraging you to encourage slugs! But your garden will look really favourable to amphibians if it is a veritable café laden with an insect menu. If you kill off your slugs or insects, you’ve wiped the menu board clean and may not attract a froggy friend. Plant a variety of pollinator-friendly flowers. Add lettuces, dahlias, marigolds, hostas – anything slugs and snails love. Add herbs and nasturtiums to attract aphids and insects. Plant these in a section near to your amphibian home – give them a lunch next to their log home or their frogilo.

5. Add flowers and plants that attract slugs, snails, and insects

One of our Common Frogs hiding behind a pot

A Wildlife Highway

6. Connect your garden to the next garden or green space

Make it easier for the walking wildlife to reach your garden by connecting to the wild highway. This means a gap under your gate or a hole at the bottom of your hedge. If you have fencing or a wall, help them get either under (tunnel, gap), over (ramp, if fence or wall is small), or through (hole). This is such a valuable action on the part of garden owners. By doing this you are helping increase the size of amphibians’ and small mammals’ habitat. You could also help keep them away from roads by encouraging them to walk through connected gardens. Toads are particularly vulnerable to road collisions as they follow traditional migratory routes that may have since been taken over by cars. Froglife even has a Toads on Roads project to raise awareness of the issue and set up toad patrols.

Inconstant Tales #1: This Herb is Not a Hotel

My first homemade trough in my new container vegetable garden was stuffed with as many herbs as I could fit. However, three herb plants missed the trip, due to lack of space (a constant issue here). These were two little corianders and a chive fellow. They look upset at being left out because they’ve all had a minor breakdown. The chives have become a hotel for stray aphids; in fact it is fully booked, no rooms left.

This was unexpected. As herbs in general are often advised as companion plants with vegetables, I thought most insects avoided them due to their pungent leaves. I thought this especially of chives. Not so. According to the RHS, they are liked by greenflies. There were mild-mannered lettuces and cabbages next to the chives – why would greenfly not prefer them? Actually, they picked a single cabbage to sit on too, but the chives were the runaway winner. As I have a no-harm rule for all wildlife in the garden, I quickly looked for a way to get them to move on. Use it as an occasional rest stop, fine. But leave the chives some room, okay?

Chives: this herb is not a hotel!

The aphids may be unhelpful for the chives, but they are a food source for our resident hoverflies and ladybirds. For now, the chives have gone to stay with the borage and squash – the area last hosting hoverflies and green bugs. However, the jury’s out on this solution. If they survive the onslaught of aphids, they need a companion plant, a little herb friend.

Coriander and Fennel

The coriander also needs a herb companion. Alone in the greenhouse, it has not fared well, drying out suddenly in a recent heatwave. Outdoors in the herb trough, it flowered immediately, producing seeds but few leaves. Now, it could be the changeable growing conditions lately, or it could its position next to fennel. I knew that dill and fennel are relatives and should not be grown together, but only recently read that coriander should also be away from its familial fennel.

Herb Trough: mint and fennel

The fennel, meanwhile, is happy as larry, while the neighbouring mints are loving life. All these herbs are together in the same trough because they all favour moist soil and the mint receives shade by the fennel.

#FridayFail: coriander

So it looks like there will be no carrot and coriander soup. Maybe some ‘Orange you glad the parsley’s still there’ soup? Or, given the mint explosion, some carrot soup with a hint of ‘After Eights’?

Are you growing herbs? Do you grow coriander, and have you found a companion plant for it?

9 Reasons Why you Should Spare the Slugs and Snails in your Garden

When gardeners gather together to chat about all things plants, whether they grow flowers or vegetables, it is not long before the topic of slugs and snails comes to the fore. Phrases like, ‘the slugs have eaten all my dahlias!’, or ‘they’ve devoured all the lettuces!’ are not uncommon. Gardeners, garden magazines, and garden books alike frequently discuss how to get rid of slugs and snails. How to stop slugs and snails from eating our beloved plants is not an unfair topic, but many articles and book chapters still cover how to kill slugs and snails, while neighbouring articles document how to save bees or hedgehogs. Gardeners around the UK have taken heed and implemented wildlife-friendly plants and practices into their green spaces that will help pollinators, amphibians, and hedgehogs, but the molluscs (the term for slugs and snails) haven’t quite reached the lofty heights of protection. It is easier to make room for the wildlife that is helping the garden, while simultaneously waging war against our ‘plant predators’. However, removing the slugs and snails may harm the helpful wildlife and ultimately the garden itself. Here are 9 reasons why you should spare the slugs and snails in your garden.

1 They Are Food for Other Wildlife

Slugs and snails have to watch out for several predators. They are a meal to many other creatures including frogs, toads, hedgehogs, and garden birds. Even ducks and chickens will devour slugs. According to the RSPB slug guide, they are also food for foxes, badgers, slow worms, and even beetles like the violet beetle and the Devil’s Coach Horse beetle. And according to Country Life, garden snails are loved by songbirds. Remove them and you could be removing a vital food source of other wild animals.

2. They Do Not All Eat Your Plants

Have you noticed that not all your garden slugs look the same? There are dozens of slug species in the UK. Not only do they look different, but their choice of food also varies. Some prefer decaying matter, some prefer to stay under the soil, and others are omnivorous!  Snails also have numerous types. Country Life writer Ian Morton writes that there are over 120 snail species in the UK. They have a wide diet, from living plants to decaying matter and other animals.

3. Some Slugs Eat Other Slugs

Omnivorous or even carnivorous species of slugs might not be eating your plants but actually eating their sluggy neighbours. Meanwhile, some slugs eat other animals: the John Innes Centre describes the Ear Shelled Slug as an eater of mostly earthworms, not your plants. Therefore, if you kill slugs and snails, you may harm the ones that are helping you out.

Slugs vary in species and their choice of food

4. They Help Maintain Good Soil

Given that many of them feed on decaying matter and live in the soil, they help gardeners by breaking down organic matter added to feed the garden beds, borders, and plots.  They also plough routes through the earth. Soil needs pockets of air and space to provide drainage for plants, so it helps to have creatures like slugs, snails, and worms working through it.

5. Gastropods Help Make Compost

Make use of their presence in your garden and make compost. Slugs which flock to your compost bin are interested in decaying matter and will break down the green waste in your compost heap. Combined with brown waste, this homemade organic mix is a valuable supply of nutrients to plants in pots and borders.

6. Remedies for Killing Slugs are Harmful to Other Animals

Slug pellets could be consumed by other wildlife, poisoning them in turn. Even if other wildlife does not eat the pellets, animals like hedgehogs, frogs, and birds could eat the poisoned slugs and snails, possibly receiving a larger dose of the poison if they consume more than one mollusc.

Bowls of beer or cola are another classic slug and snail killer, but again these could kill other animals. A liquid like beer or cola could be drunk by birds and amphibians could drown in it. The use of salt could also harm other animals in the garden including pets.

Many remedies promoted as ‘all-natural’ are not naturally occurring in the least, instead containing household chemicals. If you want to maintain an organic plot, it is best to use control methods that do not harm the neighbourhood slugs or snails.

Abundance: predators are attracted to gardens with plenty of food like snails

7. They Help Attract Other Beneficial Wildlife

If your garden seems to be inundated with slugs and snails, use it to your advantage to attract predators. Beneficial wildlife will congregate in accessible, abundant gardens. You have already got a good food supply of slugs and snails – now just add water, sheltered shrubs, and a gap in the boundary so they can flock to your garden café. This could attract predators of other plant pests too, helping control aphids or flea beetles.

8. Nature Puts Them There for a Reason

Before you wage war against anything that eats a lead in your patch, stop and think about why it is there. Everything in the garden and nature has a place, it has a role to play. Removing it could cause an unseen issue. It is also impossible to remove slugs, snails, and every pest; slugs and snails amount to a population in the thousands in an average garden, while many pests pop in and out from other gardens and even the pots of new plants. Instead of trying to remove each pest or hoping that all your plants will be uneaten and perfect all the time, expect all these pests and plan some of the garden for them and some for yourself. Use these obstacles to improve your knowledge of plants and your creativity in gardening.

9. Wildlife Friendly Means All Wildlife

If we are to help reverse the dangers that British (and world) wildlife are facing, we must help all wildlife. This means helping the cutey ones and the fluffy ones, but also helping the small slimy iffy-looking ones. Remove one, even just a few slugs, and you take away a food source, or a link in the wildlife chain. We need a wildlife corridor across our lands, with food and shelter along it and even one slug (or twenty) in one garden – like your garden – is a help towards saving animals like hedgehogs, frogs, and garden birds.

Now when you are next in your garden or green space, try one thing: spare a slug, or spare a snail.