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January

Berries and leaves of variegated holly

Holly berries are a great source of food for birds

Image: Andy Hay

Gardens can prove a real life-saver for birds at this time of year, especially when it is frosty or snowy. Birds become bolder, venturing into gardens in search of scattered scraps and well-stocked feeders and bird tables.

Fallen apples can still be a good food source, which you can supplement with sliced fruit from the kitchen. You may be lucky enough to see more unusual visitors, such as fieldfares and redwings looking for berries and fruit in cold winter weather.

If you walk through woodland at this time of year you might hear a woodpecker hammering on dead wood, hunting out insect larvae in the bark. If you see a flash of red it's likely to be a great spotted woodpecker. These attractive birds may venture into larger urban gardens, especially if you leave dead wood or provide a peanut feeder.

Even if you don't venture out into the garden, now is a good time to plan for the coming year

Winter gardens aren't necessarily dull. You can provide interest in your garden at this time of year with the coloured stems of dogwood and willow, or white stemmed birch. You could add one winter flowering shrub to your garden, such as Viburnum bodnantense, or Sarcococca, or a small tree such as Prunus x Subhirtella autumnalis, or witch hazel.

Even if you don't venture out into the garden, now is a good time to plan for the coming year. You could think about a new wildlife feature for the garden, such as a mini-woodland, or mixed border. As winter reveals the bare bones of your garden, it gives you the opportunity to examine its structure and layout. If a shrub looks out of place, now might be the time to move it (as long as the ground isn't too wet or frozen).

However, if you can, take care not to disturb creatures hibernating in the corner of a shed, or under vegetation. Leaves, dried stems and the seed heads of flowers provide shelter for over-wintering lacewings, ladybirds and other insects.

A pile of fallen branches is likely to have become home to a rich variety of wildlife, even a hedgehog. Instead of having a bonfire, rake rotting branches, grass clippings, fallen leaves into heaps and leave them to rot down naturally.

You seldom see any bare ground in nature, and it's a good principle to follow in your own garden. Leave as much of last years vegetation in place as possible. If you have bare areas around shrubs, grow ground cover plants such as ivy and periwinkle.

Jobs for the month

  • Trim hedges if they are too straggly, only once the birds have eaten the berries
  • Plant trees, shrubs and hedges in milder weather.
  • Prune apple trees 
  • Check outdoor plants in pots, even in cold weather, to ensure compost is moist
  • Build nest boxes
  • Check birdbaths and ponds, and remove ice in cold weather
  • Put out fresh water for birds
  • Plan for the coming year
  • Take hardwood cuttings    

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