Dig it – November tips from the Secret Gardener

Log pile

It is very easy to provide winter homes for wildlife in your garden – simply creating a log pile can benefit many creatures including moths.

A small pile of logs with the bark still attached can support many species of invertebrates, mosses and fungi, as well as providing food and shelter for birds, amphibians and small mammals.

A wood pile made of different sizes of logs can be tucked away at the back of a border in a damp and shady place. Don’t position the pile too close to living trees and shrubs to prevent any spread of disease or fungal infection from the decaying wood. Partially bury some logs at the base of the pile so they remain damp. If in view, the log pile can be made more attractive by growing ferns and primroses around it or growing climbers over it, such as honeysuckle. This can help retain moisture but the shade may make it too cold for some insects.

Woodlice, wood-boring beetles, slugs and worms will soon settle there. In turn these will attract other animals seeking food. Woodlice, for example, feed on dead wood and plants and are preyed upon by many different animals including shrews, toads, centipedes and spiders. Small mammals such as mice and hedgehogs and amphibians such as frogs and toads will shelter between the logs and look for food. Birds such as wrens and blackbirds will also come looking for insects.

Housing for solitary bees can be provided by drilling some holes in the logs horizontally (so they don’t fill with water). You can also provide nesting sites for aphid-consuming lacewings and ladybirds by tying bundles of hollow canes or plant stems together and placing horizontally.

There are several moths which can benefit from the presence of log piles in your garden.

The main foods of the distinctively marked caterpillars of the Waved Black Parascotia fuliginaria are various fungi (especially bracket fungi) on fallen logs, tree stumps and rotting trees. They especially like birches and pines, in sheltered situations with high humidity. This moth over-winters as a small caterpillar and pupates near the larval food. It can be found in the South East, including London and parts of the West Midlands north to Lancashire.

Caterpillars of the widely distributed micro-moth Esperia sulphurella feed under the bark of decaying wood of most deciduous and coniferous trees and shrubs. They can also be found feeding on rotting fence posts. This species tends to prefer drier situations.

Alabonia Geofrella

Another micro-moth, Nemapogon clematella, has been recorded widely over England and Wales. Its caterpillars can be found feeding on small button-like fungi growing on dead hazel branches, leaving a distinctive black and white coloured trail in spring. It is also occasionally found on bracket fungi.

Caterpillars of the strikingly-marked, day-flying micro-moth Alabonia geoffrella (pictured left) also feed on dead hazel along with dead sallow and blackthorn twigs. The adults can be seen in May and June. These moths are more likely to be found in rural gardens with hedgerows; similarly, Crassa unitella, whose caterpillars feed in a silken web on fungus and under the dead bark of a range of trees from late September to May.

Gardeners in Southern England could be harbouring some more exotic moths. Metalampra italica is more common to Italy but there have been a few sightings in Britain since 2003. Caterpillars are found under the bark of dead trees and shrubs. Adults fly in late June to August.

Just a few logs could transform your garden into a safe haven for wildlife this winter.

Happy Gardening!

The BC Towers ‘Secret Gardener’