If you are gardening for pollinators, then you are probably also attracting all insect life. And if you are doing that, then you might also invite BATS!
I think bats have had some really bad press. They have become the Trump of the small flying animal world. However, their bad press has nothing to do with them, but some urban myths and some mis-founded rumours.
Think more Robert Patterson’s vampire and less Christopher Lee. Or this cutey.
They are definitely not blood-suckers. They are definitely not vampires in disguise and they are not all pestilence ridden. They don’t cause Covid-19. You can’t catch Ebola from UK bats; some European bats could have rabies or European Bat Lyssaviruses (EBLVs) but they would have to bite or scratch you – which is highly unlikely unless you were also flying about catching flies. If you do find a grounded bat, the bat experts say you must wear protective gloves.
If you see bats – then HURRAH. I also means that you have a really healthy environment full of insects.
They are super shy, so if you do spot one – brilliant!
What are bats really like?
Let me dazzle you with some bat facts (only recently learnt myself after becoming a bat foster mummy).
- There are 17 species of bat in the UK
- Bats can see in the daytime, but they just use echolocation to find their food in the dark
- Bats hang upside down in cracks, hollow trees, caves and eaves and tile spaces in rooves
- Bats living in groups called a colony
- A bat mum gives birth to one baby that she looks after until they can fly
- Baby bats are called pups
- Bat poo very quickly dries up and turns to dust
- Bat poo is also known as guano and is full of nitrogen
- Bats hibernate from December to February
- Bats don’t like to fly when it’s windy or rainy
- The most common bats you will find in a garden in the UK are common pipistrelle, soprano pipistrelle, brown long-eared bat, noctule and Daubenton’s bat.
- Bats eat mosquitos, midges, caterpillars, gnats and large beetles
- Bats can act as pollinators too! They pollinate blue agave plants which make tequila
What are the benefits of having bats in your garden?
Having bats in your garden is actually a GREAT thing. Bats are in actual fact, the dark knights of the backyard garden.
Bats keep pests down like mosquitoes and craneflies. They can even eat up to 3,500 midges a night. Now if you live in Scotland – this fact will be reason alone to read on.
In the US and Canada, they have been found to eat up corn rootworm moths!
Why do bats need our help?
Bats are actually threatened by changes in our countryside like deforestation, loss of meadows, intensive agriculture. Fragmented parcels of land and the use of chemicals is cutting down insect numbers and the bats’ source of food.
How can you encourage bats into your garden?
We have a small colony of pipistrelle bats leaving in our eaves. They have been here for years. It wasn’t until we tried to rescue a grounded pup, that we discovered we had accidentally created a garden PERFECT for bats!
- Grow native plants
- Plant night-scented flowers
- Plant long necked and flat flowers
- Plant a moon garden
- Plant insect friendly trees
- Have a source of water
- Put up a bat box
- Stop using pesticides and herbicides
- Keep cats inside at night time
- Have a compost heap
Grow native plants
Native plants and flower are much better than non-natives and exotic plants. The natives are more likely to support the local insects to your garden. You also want a good variety of plants to help provide nectar right through the year.
Plant night-scented flowers
The best plants for night scent are Tobacco plants (Nicotiana affinis), Stocks (Matthiola abicornis) and Matthiola perennis ‘Alba’, Night phlox (Zaluzianskya ovata), Jasmine, Sweet William, White Campion (Silene latifolia), Angel’s trumpet (Brugmansia suaveolens), Pinks (Dianthus ‘Memories’), Tuberose (Polianthes tuberosa), Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica ‘Halliana’)and Hesperis (Sweet rocket)
Plant long necked and flat flowers
Long-necked flowers like a honeysuckle or evening primrose will attract moths with long tongues. Insects with shorter tongues will prefer flowers like daisies, annuals like cosmos or umbellifers like, Angelica (Angelica archangelica) and Sea holly (Eringium spp.) . Ox-eye daisy’s (Leucanthemum vulgare) sage, anemones and chrysanthmums are good for the autumn. Crocus, snowdrops, mahonia and hellebores are good choices for winter.
The RHS has a comprehensive list of plants for pollinators that you can access here. Quite helpfully, it lists plants by season, so you know you have a good mix of plants to cover all year.
Plant a moon garden
Just type ‘moon garden’ into Pinterest and you’ll find thousands of ideas. Basically a moon garden has white plants that appear luminous in the light of the moon. A bit like the Dong with the luminious nose. These plants release their scent at night, because they want to attract moths and beetles. Try white dog roses, white buddleias, white lavenders. You can check out my Pinterest board for other white flowers here.
Plant insect friendly trees
Judas tree (Cercis siliquastrum) with its pink pea-like flowers is a deciduous small tree from the Mediterranean, but very hardy (H5 – down to -10 degrees C). Indian bean tree (Catalpa bignonioides) flowers in summer and has massive bright green heart shaped leaves.
Have a source of water, like a patio pond
Just a bucket will do to make a small patio pond. Just make sure you fill it with rain water, and put in some rocks for animals to rest on and use to drink from. Then you can pop in some water plants like water mint (Mentha aquatica), lady’s smock (Cardamine pretensis), marsh marigold (Caltha plustris) to attract the insects. We made one out of an old sandpit, and now have frogs and a lot of insects.
Put up a bat box
A bat box is a bit like a bird box, except there is a slit at the bottom with grooved wood ladder running up inside. This is where the bats cling on to to roost. Make sure you put it at about 4 metres high and on a wall or tall tree. Make sure it is a sheltered position and gets some sun too. Also don’t treat the wood with anything as bats have sensative noses. Check out the Bat Conservation Trust’s page on ‘Bat Boxes‘ for more advice. We bought ours from Amazon. The Wildlife World Original Bat Box has a double chamber with no checmical treatments.
Stop using pesticides and herbicides
The general rule should be, if you want animals and insects in your garden don’t use chemicals that will kill them. Even the bad ones I’m afraid. Try buying in natural predators like lacewings, parasitic wasps and lacewings. If you have a pond then you will be attracting toads and frogs as well as hedgehogs – all of which will help keep pests numbers down. Check out this post on zero waste organic gardening for more tips on how to garden without chemicals here.
Keep cats inside at night time
Cats love to catch bats when they come out at night. Grounded bats are also vulnerable to bat attack. Keeping cats indoors at dusk is a great help.
Keep the lights low
Having masses of outdoor lighting can affect the bat’s roosting area. Bats will avoid highly lit areas or even abandon a roost that is too bright. If there is too much light at dusk they may have to delay their feed which impacts how much the can catch and eat that night.
Have a compost heap
What! Another good reason to have a compost heap. Yeah there are so many reasons to start a compost and bats are one of those reasons. Compost heaps attract beetles and other insects which bats love to munch.
So if you are gardening and want to bring in wildlife, please don’t forget the BATS.
If you find an injured bat, call the Bat Helpline (0845 1300 228) before doing anything.