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Ditch Your Dahlias to Attract More Birds and Insects

With more than half of British households providing food for garden birds, avian visitors are clearly welcome. But whilst investing in bird feeders and >bird food will help to ensure that birds are attracted to your garden, your planting could be having the opposite effect!

Over the years, British gardens have become much more formal that they used to be with manicured lawns and beds planted with a variety of colourful plants and flowers. Many of these plants tend to be exotic species and are not native to Britain. The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) suspected that the prevalence of exotic plants could be impacting the number of insects attracted to gardens. The prevalence of insects will, in turn, influence the number of birds stopping by.

Experimental Planting

The RHS decided to conduct a lengthy experiment in order to test their theory. This involved planting 36 plots with species from Britain, the northern hemisphere and the southern hemisphere. These were then tended like normal domestic gardens for four years to see which insects were attracted to the gardens and in what numbers.

Proof that British is Best

The experiment demonstrated that insects were more than three times as likely to choose gardens with native British plants than those with exotic varieties. More than half of all invertebrates discovered in the gardens were found in the plots with native plants. Just 19% of insects chose the most exotically planted plots. In other words, our native insects are not keen on our dahlias and fuchsias!

Switching back to British species could make a huge difference to the level of activity in your garden.

RHS principal entomologist Dr Andrew Salisbury said: "In order to help create a positive environment for these valuable invertebrates to thrive gardeners should plant plenty of plants from the UK and relax, refrain from spraying plants at the first sign of pest attack, and reduce trimming and allow some plant debris to accumulate in order to support the garden's food chain."

The Significance of Insects

Plant-dwelling invertebrates from caterpillars and butterflies to woodlice and weevils play a crucial role in establishing a healthy environment in domestic gardens. They provide food for other wildlife including the birds. Many invertebrates offer a natural defence against the pests which eat your plants as do the visiting birds.

Your garden can look equally attractive with native plants and will also feel more natural. Honeysuckle is an excellent choice and you could also feature foxgloves, purple loosestrife and heather. In contrast, try to avoid thyme, dahlias and fuchsias. Don’t worry about the occasional nibbled leaf as the ladybirds will see off the pests for you. It is worth sacrificing the odd leaf in the cause of biodiversity.

With balance restored to your garden, you can expect to see more fabulous creatures including wonderful birds and hedgehogs. What could be better than a garden which is alive with a variety of birds and a few cute hogs?


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