There are many ways to ecologically enhance your own garden or balcony. This does not require a huge pond or hectare-sized wildflower meadows. Here, we provide a few tips on how to improve the living conditions for fauna and flora in the own home – with simple means and based on our experiences.
Tip 1 – Feeding birds (correctly)
Feeding all year round? There are different opinions. The Naturschutzbund Deutschland e. V. (NABU) is a German non-governmental organization with the aim of protecting nature and the environment. According to NABU, year-round feeding alone cannot prevent the decline in biodiversity. They recommend winter feeding. Other voices, such as that of ornithologist Peter Berthold, are clearly in favor of year-round feeding. We have opted for the latter.
The ornithologist emphasizes that fat balls in particular are very popular with birds in summer because they provide them with the energy they need to fly. Animals require about 25 times more energy to fly than to run or hop.
Here are a few important points to consider when feeding birds:
- Clean the feeders regularly, otherwise there is a risk that infectious disease spread among the animals.
- Do not feed fat balls in nets. The animals can get caught and injure themselves.
- Use high quality food consisting of sunflower seeds, native seeds, raisins, fruit, oatmeal, bran, and/or mealworms.
- Avoid inappropriate food, such as bread, other baked goods, or salty and spicy foods, for example cheese, bacon, or boiled potatoes.
In our research on feeding birds, we found the following links helpful:
Feeding Birds | When To Feed Garden Birds - The RSPB
Feeding birds in your backyard | The Humane Society of the United States
Tip 2 – Bird baths
Did you know that aphids are a water substitute for tits? Nevertheless, the birds prefer a proper water source – like a bird bath.
Whether a saucer on the balcony or a beautiful ceramic bird bath in the garden, a shallow container with a water depth of 5 cm in a location away from the blazing sun is ideal. Alternatively, birdbaths can be hung in trees. This way, the birds are protected from cats and other predators while drinking. In moderate temperatures, the water should be changed once a week and the container should be thoroughly cleaned with hot water and a brush. On very warm days, water should be changed daily.
Tips for building a bird bath are available here:
How To Make A Bird Bath | Providing Water For Birds- The RSPB
12 Simple Tips to Attract Birds to Your Bird Bath (2022) - World Birds
Tip 3 – Insect-friendly plants
Flower boxes on the balcony or terrace are particularly well suited to being stocked with native and decorative flowering plants.
They provide wild bees, bumblebees, butterflies, and other insects not only with nectar and breeding sites, but can sometimes also offer shelter for the winter.
More tips on setting up an insect-friendly balcony or garden can you find here:
10 Tips for Building a Pollinator Garden | The Old Farmer's Almanac
Your Ultimate Guide to Planting Bee-Friendly Flowers (countryliving.com)
Tip 4 – Insect hotels and sandarium
Building an insect hotel for the garden or balcony is a great family project. It offers freedom for artistic design and the opportunity to get to know the crawling and flying inhabitants better.
Suitable materials that serve insects well for hibernation or nesting are:
- Reeds or bamboo sticks
- Clay bricks
- Cardboard tubes
- Bee boards
The finished insect hotel should best be placed near flowering plants, so that the animals can quickly find food. A variety of insects will feel welcome in the hotels if they are hanging in or put up at high locations, which are sunny, dry and windless.
Instructions on building an insect hotel are provided here:
Build a Bug Hotel - Garden Therapy
Attention! If you want to specifically help wild bees, then insect hotels are of little use. 75 percent of our wild bee species nest in the ground. They are therefore happy to have a sandarium – a sandbox for wild bees.
How to build such a sandbox for bees is described here (in German):
Sandarium - Wir bauen einen „Wildbienen-Sandkasten“ (wildbienenwelt.de)
Tip 5 - Dead wood, piles of leaves, and stones
Many animals like to settle in dead wood and foliage. There, they also find food and nesting opportunities. A rotting tree trunk, a dead hedge as well as piles of leaves turn out to be true oases for bees, wasps, beetles, birds, amphibians, hedgehogs, or shrews. Especially the last two are grateful in the cold season when they can hibernate in a pile of leaves.
A dead hedge is nothing more than branches and twigs loosely laid one on top of the other, with stakes or logs providing some stability. If you want to make it a little more attractive, a wide variety of plants can be incorporated into the hedge. Over time, a solid hedge will develop naturally, as plant seeds will find their way into the hedge through its inhabitants or the wind.
Read more about dead hedges here:
Dead hedge (natureworks.org.uk)
A shelter for wildlife: Benjes Hedge - CGTN
How to make a log shelter | The Wildlife Trusts
When crawling animals, lizards, toads, snails, wild bees or butterflies are looking for a suitable place to stay or rest, they prefer piles of large stones in a sunny position. Some use them for sunbathing in summer, others use them to take refuge during the cold winter.
Tip 6 - Nesting boxes
Trees in the garden provide a suitable place to hang nesting boxes. However, there exists a variety of boxes for a variety of bird species. We recommend to first get an overview of the species that visit your home most frequently before selecting the boxes.
When putting up a nesting box, make sure that it is oriented towards the southeast or east. This way, it will neither get uncomfortably wet by rain nor unbearably hot on sunny days. Some nesting boxes, such as half-caves for robins or wagtails, should be set up on house walls, balconies or sheds. There, they are harder to reach for cats, martens, and other predators.
Nesting boxes should be cleaned either in late summer or toward the end of winter for two reasons:
1. The animals do not dispose of the old, abandoned nest themselves. Instead, the next inhabitants simply build their new nest on top. As a result, the next brood will be closer to the entrance hole making a hunt easier for predators.
2. In addition to dirt, there are often parasites and pathogens in the nest boxes, which can endanger the brood in the coming year.
More information on the different types of nesting boxes as well as on how to clean is summarized here:
Nestboxes For The Garden - The RSPB
Tip 7 – Meadow orchards
High biodiversity and fresh fruit in the garden – meadow orchards make it possible. They provide habitat and food source for many different animals. Various species of birds, bats, dormice, and hornets like to seek shelter between the leaves or in the trunk.
If your yard is extremely wet or dry, fruit trees should not be planted there. Anything in between, such as loamy or slightly sandy soil, is very suitable for growing.
What are the best trees to plant? Old species of apples, pears, cherries or plums, for example, are great. On our meadow orchard, we planted the following:
Malus ‘Berlepsch‘, Malus ‘Boskoop‘, Malus ‘Goldparmäne‘, Malus ‘Kaiser Wilhelm‘, Malus ‘Jacob Lebel‘, Malus ‘Rote Strenrenette‘
Pyrus communis ‘Gellerts Butterbirne’, Pyrus communis ‘Gute Graue’
Prunus domestica ‘Hauszwetsche’, Prunus domestica ‘Mirabelle von Nancy‘
Prunus avium ‚Schneiders Späte Knorpelkirsche‘, Prunus avium ‚Büttners Rote Knorpelkirsche‘
With meadow orchards, it is important to know when to harvest the fruit and how to prune the trees. If this is done the wrong way, the tree will age very quickly. The care of the trees can take up quite some time. For example, in the first three years, regular watering is necessary in case of extreme drought.
For more information on pruning and the best location for the different fruit tree species, click here:
How To Prune Your Fruit Trees - Modern Farmer
Orchard biodiversity tips - People's Trust for Endangered Species (ptes.org)