April in the wildlife garden

Orange tip butterfly ©Vicky Nall

Wildlife notes from Plumgarths' gardener, Julia Sier.

April can be unpredictable: balmy warm days, interspersed with late frosts, sharp winds and cold showers.  But the arrival of spring is accelerating and every day brings new firsts in the wildlife calendar.  Here are a few things to do and look out for in your garden.

Sow some hardy annual seeds for pollinators

  • As the days warm, plants put on a growth spurt and this is a cue to get out in the garden to sow some seeds.
  • We may not be able to get to our local garden centre at the moment but why not buy some hardy annual seeds online and sow them directly into any gaps in your borders?  No compost, pots or greenhouse required!
  • Hardy annuals are generally quick and easy to grow, so ideal for budding young wildlife gardeners too.
  • Pollinator friendly species include borage, nasturtiums, sunflowers, marigolds and cornflowers.
  • Action: how to grow a wild patch

Leave some weeds for wildlife

  • If you’re having a spring tidy up while you’re at home, leave a few corners of the garden to go wild, the wildlife will love you for it.
  • Wild patches of nettles are great for small tortoiseshell and peacock butterflies, which are now laying their eggs on the newly emerging leaves.
  • Dandelions, celandines and buttercups are all packed with pollen and nectar, perfect for feeding early pollinators.

Keep feeding the birds

  • Garden birds are working hard at the moment, defending territories, laying eggs or feeding young so will welcome an easy source of high energy food.
  • Some foods are not suitable for young chicks so switch from dried to live or soaked mealworms and make sure peanuts can’t be taken whole.
  • Action: how to feed birds in your garden

Look and listen out for spring migrants returning

  • You may have already spotted your first swallow, and other visitors to look out for include blackcaps, house martins, swifts and garden warblers.
  • Your garden may also play host to some more unusual international arrivals as some migrants may use it as a short-term refuge to rest up, before moving on to their normal habitat. Chiffchaffs, willow warblers, whitethroats, pied flycatchers and common redstarts are all possible.

Listen to the dawn chorus

  • The dawn chorus is one of highlights of the wildlife calendar and late April to early May is the best time to experience it.
  • Why not get up super early and venture out into your garden or local woodland to experience it close up?  Alternatively, leave your window open and enjoy the chorus from the comfort of your own bed!
  • Not sure what time to set your alarm? Sunrise times for your locality.

Look out for orange tip butterflies on the wing

  • The females, who have black, rather than orange tipped wings, lay their eggs singly on plants of the crucifer family, especially cuckoo flower and garlic mustard.
  • Look carefully and you may spot an egg on one of these hedgerow plants, they are tiny but also orange!

Look out for ladybirds tempted out of hibernation by warmer spring days

  • Ladybirds are one of our most familiar beetles and well-loved by gardeners as they and their larvae are voracious feeders and can consume as many as 50 aphids a day.
  • The commonest species are the easily recognisable, red and black, two-spot and larger seven-spot ladybirds, however they can also come in black, yellow, white or brown and may have stripes as well as spots. 
  • Take a look at our beetle guide to find out more about these varied and colourful creatures.

There are lots more ideas about looking after yourself and nature on the national Wildlife Trusts website, including links to Wildlife Trust webcams around the country.

Julia Sier

Julia Sier, Cumbria Wildlife Trust's Plumgarths' gardener