Bats in the garden
The bats you are most likely to see are pipistrelles. Not only are they our most abundant bats, but they have adapted to living in urban areas as well as their original woodland habitats. They emerge at dusk in time for us to see them flying and feeding in our parks, gardens and along waterways. Bat watching can be a magical experience. The amazing aerobatics of pipistrelles at dusk as they dive and twist chasing their insect prey is something never forgotten. So how can you attract them to your garden? The answer is encouraging their insect prey
We must aim at making the garden a place that insects regularly visit by planting a range of flowers, varying not only in colour and fragrance but also in shape, encouraging a diversity of insects to drop in and refuel, with flowers in bloom through the year, including both herbaceous perennials and annuals.
- Aim to have some flowers in bloom throughout the year.
- Although summer is the most energy-expensive time for bats, most notably for pregnant and lactating females, spring and autumn are also crucial.
- Aim to fill the hungry gap by extending the flowering period from March to late autumn and beyond. Even during winter hibernation, bats will sometimes wake and move to another roosting site, snacking if insects are available.
Different food for different bat species
Flowers with nectar hidden deep in long narrow petal tubes are only attractive to insects with long tongues like moths and butterflies. Brown long-eared bats, with a fondness for moths, may be seen hovering close to flowers such as honeysuckle and valerian as they are large enough to take larger prey.
Pipistrelle bats are so tiny that they are only able to cope with tiny insects such as small moths, midges and mosquitoes. As pipistrelles are the species most likely to visit your garden, especially in urban areas, we need to provide open flowers accessible to short-tongued insects, such as daisy-like flowers.
It isn't just a question of flowers to attract flying insects. Insect life cycles are complicated, and newly hatched larvae rarely feed on the same plants that attract the flying adult. Unless the larval food is nearby, adult numbers of insects will also be low.
Trees and shrubs are important as food for leaf-eating insect larvae. In a small garden choose tress that can be coppiced - cut down to the every few years- such as hazel.
Many insect larvae feed on grasses and low meadow plants. Leave uncleared patches of old plant stems and long grass at the back of borders or round the garden, where insects can feed and overwinter.
Ponds are invaluable to bats. Many of the insects they prefer start life in water, and bats regularly hunt over open water. One of the single most useful things gardeners can do for wildlife is to make a pond. The Freshwater Habitats Trust has an excellent bat species dossier
which shows the best way of creating ponds for bats.
Selecting flowers (for insects) for bats
- Try to include flowers that vary not only in colour and fragrance but also in shape.
- When nectar is completely exposed in flowers in massed bunches, as in rowan, it is freely visited by insects
- Daisies and daisy-like flowers are open with a mass of tubular florets. These are shallow and short-tongued insects can reach nectar.
- Pale flowers are also more easily seen when light is poor at dusk
- Single flowers are more attractive to insects than double. Double have a more confusing shape, and some are sterile.
- Those that are native wild flowers or closely related but not double are most useful.
- Those with tall flat heads such as fennel and wild carrot make good landing platforms and feeding place for tiny insects
- Aromatic plants often have tiny, insignificant flowers, but are attractive to insects
With diverse planting, a range of flower designs and night-scented plants throughout the bat season will not only create a haven for bats, insects and other wildlife, you will also enhance a garden which you can enjoy both day and night. If your garden is very small, and your options are limited, look over the garden wall to see what is available nearby and concentrate on what appears to be lacking.
Watch your flowers closely, especially on a sunny day, to see which are the most popular with insect visitors. When visiting public gardens, note what is in bloom out of season, and assess the popularity to wildlife of the plants growing there so gathering ideas for extending your own planting.
Flowers for bats
You can find more suggestions here