June has finally arrived in all its floral glory. With the summer solstice nearly upon us, there is plenty of time to work in the garden with enough daylight hours left over to relax and watch wildlife too. And there’s so much to see and hear right now, like grasshoppers churring in wildflower meadows and fluffy fledglings trying out their wings for the very first time.
The Wildlife Trust’s ‘30 Days Wild’ is a great way to celebrate nature all around us, so why not join thousands of other people and engage in a random act of wildness in your garden or local area every day this month?
More wildlife gardening advice:
Plants for wildlife
The beginning of June is the ideal time to plant out half-hardy annuals, once they are hardened off and the last frosts are over. Don’t worry if you didn’t sow seeds in spring, you can buy plants as plugs or in pots now, ready to transplant into the garden. Cosmos bipinnatus is an excellent source of pollen and nectar for insects like hoverflies and short-tongued bees. We love snow-white ‘Purity’ and the luscious carmine flowers of C. ‘Rubenza’ with their yellow, pollen-filled eyes. This year we are trying out the sultry apricot-pink flowers of Cosmos ‘Apricotta’ too. If you deadhead spent blooms regularly, cosmos should continue to flower until the first frosts.
Zinnia elegans can still be sown outdoors this month, or bought as plugs and planted out. The bright blooms are attractive to pollinating insects, although single-flowered zinnias such as ‘Zahara’ are best as the extra petals in double flowers can prevent insects accessing nectar and pollen. Snapdragons (Antirrhinum majus) can also be planted out in the garden this month to attract long-tongued bumblebees like the garden bumblebee (Bombus hortorum). Their petals are covered in cone-shaped cells that help bees hold on to the two fused lip petals while they feed. Some bumblebees have learnt to ‘rob’ snapdragons by piercing a hole in the side of the flower to access the nectar.
June is a wonderful month to visit rose gardens and drink in the glorious colours and fragrance of these quintessential cottage garden flowers. Many single and semi-double roses are excellent for pollinators with their easily-accessible stamens covered in yellow pollen. But like zinnias, fully double roses often have petals which prevent bees and other insects accessing pollen and nectar, so these are best avoided.
A wide range of pollinators visit roses, including bumblebees which buzz pollinate the flowers by contracting their flight muscles, creating vibrations that release pollen which the bees then collect on their hairy legs. Some roses, such as Rosa rugosa, sweet briar (R. rubiginosa), field rose (R. arvensis) and the wild dog rose (R. canina), have attractive hips that not only bring colour and interest to the garden in autumn, but also provide a feast for small mammals and birds like thrushes. Dog roses are one of the food plants of common emerald, barred yellow and vapourer moth caterpillars.
Climbing roses create a thorny refuge for birds like house sparrows, and rose foliage is an important source of nest material for leaf-cutter bees such as the patchwork leaf-cutter (Megachile centuncularis). These fascinating creatures tend to prefer roses with softer leaves from which they cut notches to use in the construction of cells for their eggs. Many roses provide potential nest material including R. ‘Gertrude Jekyll’, R. ‘Madame Alfred Carrière’ and R. ‘Francis E. Lester. If your roses attract aphids too, leave them as food for ladybirds, hoverfly larvae and blue tits. And while you are enjoying the sights and scents of summer, you could consider whether there might be space to add a rose or two to your garden this autumn.
June is a great time to take softwood cuttings of nectar-rich herbs to create free plants for remarkably little effort. Marjoram, mint, sage and thyme can all be propagated in this way, and between them provide food for a wide range of pollinators.
Mint (Mentha) attracts bees and the tiny mint moth (Pyrausta aurata), a delightful day-flying moth whose caterpillars feed on mint, marjoram and lemon balm. Marjoram (Oregano vulgare) is particularly good for butterflies, thyme (Thymus vulgaris) is loved by bees and hoverflies, and sage (Salvia officinalis) has beautiful blue flowers which are a magnet for long-tongued bees.
Natural food sources such as caterpillars and worms provide vital nutrition this month when many birds will be feeding young. Supplementary foods such as mealworms and sunflower seeds are good sources of energy for busy parent birds. Reduce the amount of supplementary bird feed so that it is all eaten within a day or two to avoid food going mouldy, and ensure feeders are cleaned regularly to prevent the spread of disease. Don’t put out whole peanuts or bread as they aren’t suitable for nestlings and could harm them. Make sure birds and other animals that visit the garden have access to clean, fresh water.
In late spring and early summer, tree canopies, grassy areas and flowerbeds are busy with energetic but inept newly-fledged birds. In our garden, young sparrows bounce beside the pond, and blue tits hide from predators beneath the hellebore leaves while the adults are still feeding them. Some species that have just left the nest, such as robins, can’t yet fly. They need to spend several days waiting for their flight feathers to finish growing and are often fed by parents for a couple of weeks before they become fully independent.
If you find an uninjured fledgling on the ground, leave it alone. The parents should soon return to feed it. Exceptions include swifts, swallows and house martins which should be able to fly as soon as they leave the nest. It is also important to keep cats indoors while there are fledglings in the garden.
Creating and maintaining habitats
Wildlife ponds are a fantastic resource for a huge range of aquatic and land animals. Developing a network of habitats adjacent to ponds gives these creatures more opportunities to shelter, bask and hunt. Ensure that your pond has a shallow end, rocks or another way for animals like hedgehogs and amphibians to climb out. Low dense shrubs nearby will give birds some cover when they come down to drink.
Allowing grass to grow long around one edge creates protection for young frogs, toads and other animals once they leave the pond, and a group of rocks or a log pile close to the water provides another refuge for amphibians. In addition to an area with long grass and wild flowers, we have placed some half terracotta pots beside our pond to create more shelter. Leaving a sunny area of ground clear provides a space for basking insects and reptiles. Then, with a good variety of habitats around your pond, all you need do is watch and wait as the wildlife comes to you.
Look out for… dragonflies
Many dragonfly nymphs live underwater for one to two years, feeding on snails, tadpoles and even small fish. This year we are hoping to spot adults around our two-year-old pond and perhaps larvae emerging from the water too, leaving their ghostly exuviae (the larval outer casing) behind on plant stems as they take off on their maiden flights.
To attract these graceful aerial hunters, create the biggest pond you can, but don’t worry if you only have space for a mini-pond. Even small areas of water can provide valuable habitats. Add floating plants to create shelter for larvae, and leave open water for egg laying. Emergent vegetation gives nymphs something to climb up before shedding their skins, while stones and plants around the edge provide places for adults to bask.
You can distinguish between dragonflies and damselflies by observing the wing position at rest. Dragons hold their wings at right angles, whereas most damsels lay their wings straight along the abdomen. Dragonflies tend to be larger too, with broader bodies. Summer is the best time to see many species of dragonfly, including:
- The emperor (Anax imperator): a magnificent dragonfly on the wing between May and August. Males have a bright blue abdomen with a black line down the centre, and females are green with the same stripe. Both males and females have a green thorax. Rarely alighting, these powerful hunters eat insects: even butterflies and damselflies. Females lay eggs in floating vegetation, and their nymphs are the largest in the UK.
- A common dragonfly in much of lowland Britain, the brown hawker (Aeshna grandis) is one of the most easily identified species. Its wings have a cinnamon tinge and its brown body has small blue and yellow markings (male) or just yellow (female). The typical flight period of this large dragonfly is from the end of June to the end of September. The female lays her eggs into floating vegetation, rotten wood or even mud.
- Common darters (Sympetrum striolatum) emerge around the middle of June and can often be seen well into November. Males of this smaller species are a lovely rich red, while females and immature common darters are golden-brown. Common darters are often seen around ponds, perching in a favourite spot or hovering above the water, then darting forward to catch their prey.
If you are planning to add a parking space to your front garden this summer, consider the effect your choice of materials will have on the environment, wildlife and your own wellbeing. According to the Royal Horticultural Society, almost a quarter of front gardens are now completely paved.
If you need an area for parking, choose a surface that lets water drain through like permeable brick pavers, gravel or grass sown through a reinforcement grid system suitable for car parking (available made from 100 per cent recycled plastic), and leave as much space as possible for planting. There are many advantages of permeable surfaces, including reducing the risk of flooding.
You can also plant through gravel or in spaces between permeable paving with low-growing plants such as thyme and chamomile. Adding hedges and planting climbers up fences adds texture and colour, and provides valuable habitats for wildlife too.