Insect Hotels - Encourage Beneficial Insects Into Your Garden

, written by Benedict Vanheems gb flag

Bug hotel

Nature does a lot to help our fruits and vegetables along, not least by providing a legion of beneficial insects to pollinate our crops and prey on pests. It's impossible to quantify just how valuable these creepy crawlies are in keeping things ticking over on the productive plot but suffice to say we're hugely indebted to them!

It wasn't so long ago that the majority of gardening books recommended spraying a crop to within an inch of its life whenever the tiniest pest dared to rear its head. Thankfully these are more enlightened times and rather than wipe out both pest and predator gardeners are nowadays encouraged to strike a balance in the kitchen garden, nurturing the beneficial creatures so that they in turn take care of the undesirables. Making an insect hotel is a great way of achieving this. By breaking ground on your own bug des res you'll be setting yourself up for a significantly less troublesome growing season.

Free accommodation

An insect hotel offers free accommodation to its occupants. In return, when it's time to check out they'll be right on site to go about their pollination and pest predation – a beautifully symbiotic relationship. The good news is it costs nothing to make an insect hotel, just a little time and effort. Invertebrates aren't fussy as long as they have got somewhere to bed down and lay their eggs, so you can go as elaborate or simple as your tastes permit.

Insect hotel to attract beneficial insects

While ready-made insect hotels are available to buy, it's great fun making your own bespoke hotel. Use salvaged or recycled materials to build the walls and roof of your hotel – old shelving planks, drinks bottles, pallets, pipes, you name it.

The simplest structure is a wooden box open at one end and stuffed with the material that your insect will bed down in. Make sure your hotel is watertight so its residents don't get a drenching after every downpour. Tiles, offcuts of felt or corrugated roofing are some of the options for weatherproofing. You can make lots of small hotels or one major high-rise – the pictures here give a few ideas.

Room furnishings

Decorating the rooms of your insect hotel is the creative part. Think like a bug and pander to their every need! Different types of insect will prefer different room furnishings. If your hotel is big enough you can mix and match, using different materials within each layer or section. Try one or more of the following materials.

Insect towerl

Drilled wood: Solitary bees and wasps are attracted to holes drilled into wood as they offer the perfect place to lay their eggs in peace. Drill holes of different sizes, between 5mm (0.2in) and 10mm (0.4in) diameter so as to offer spaces for different species.

Rotting logs: Perfect for wood-boring beetles whose larvae will feast on the decaying wood. Place at the base of your hotel so the logs stay nice and damp and mix with other decaying plant matter to attract centipedes (which devour slugs) and other woodland litter insects such as millipedes and woodlice (which will provide a welcome source of food for birds). This is also a great spot for garden spiders.

Twigs, sticks and stems: Bundled together, sticks and twigs of different sizes offer welcome lodgings for ground beetles. These beetles chomp away at many of the pests that hinder our crops, including aphids and carrot root fly larvae. You'll also be offering a vacancy to ladybirds, which hoover up aphids and nuisance insects such as mites. Hoverflies will also be attracted to this type of material. Hoverflies are both pollinator and pest patroller – the larvae carry an insatiable appetite for aphids while the adults feed on nectar as they pollinate flowers.

Bamboo canes: Hollow stems such as bamboo canes provide another hidey hole for solitary bees, who will lay their eggs then seal up the hole using mud or leaf litter.

Straw, dried grass or rolled up cardboard: Just the material for a cosy lacewing hangout. While lacewings may be beautifully intricate to look at, they are truly the gardener's best friend, devouring aphids and other pests such as scale insects, many types of caterpillar and mites. Place your straw or cardboard inside an old open-ended plastic bottle to prevent it turning soggy.

Encouraging beneficial insects into your vegetable garden by building a bug hotel

Prime location

It's all very well building a handsomely equipped insect hotel but for it to become the destination of choice it has to be in prime position. Set your hotel up in a sheltered area of the garden or allotment away from the prevailing wind. Most insects prefer slightly damp conditions but solitary bees demand the sunniest aspect possible to help them get out and about on a cold day. Your hotel will become fully occupied quicker if it is located close to an existing insect hotspot: a hedge, bank of nectar-rich flowers or a pond, for example.

Don't limit your insect-attracting ambitions to just one hotel. Remember that as well as helping the gardener out, insects support animals higher up the food chain, which will in turn go on to help us out. Log piles left in out-of-the-way corners, wildflowers sown around the perimeter of your productive plot, or a small pond are just a few of the other ways you can help. By doing so you'll be enriching the local ecosystem and ensuring your garden is as productive as it can be.

By Benedict Vanheems.

Pests, Beneficial Insects and Plant Diseases

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Show Comments



Comments

 
"What a cool idea! Thanks"
Bonnie on Wednesday 1 January 2014
"Insect hotels require minimal space and repay many times over with an on-site army of beneficial bugs!"
Benedict Vanheems on Wednesday 12 March 2014
"Hi, I want to make this insect hotel but i don't know how to make the wood go in a circle without breaking? Csn you ppl lease explain how you did it?"
carolina on Saturday 21 February 2015
"Hi Caroline. The insect hotels in the middle two pictures above use logs that have been drilled into to create hidey-holes for insects such as solitary bees. They also use bamboo canes cut in sections to fit and then stacked/pushed in together. The very top picture which uses the circular segments was a picture I took at a garden show - always lots of ideas at these sorts of events! Unfortunately I'm not sure how they did it in this case. But if you wanted circular segments like this you could try using wide-diameter pipes, tubs with the bottoms cut off, old drinks bottles etc. Good luck with your project - it will make such a difference to wildlife in your garden."
Benedict Vanheems on Monday 23 February 2015
"How far away from my house should I locate the hotel?"
Debbie on Monday 30 March 2015
"Also, how far away from garden path should I locate my hotel?"
Debbie on Monday 30 March 2015
"Hi Debbie. Insects aren't easily 'spooked' like birds, so the hotel can go as close to the house or a garden path as you like."
Benedict Vanheems on Tuesday 31 March 2015
"What are the black framed circles in the top picture made of?"
Shelly on Sunday 7 June 2015
"Hi Shelly. I'm not sure on this one - the picture was taken of a garden at a flower show. I would suggest they are made from wood. I would be inclined to use plastic pipes however, which would be long-lasting and keep the contents inside dry."
Benedict Vanheems on Monday 8 June 2015
"thank you very much this has helped me "
cain hatherell on Thursday 24 September 2015
"We have small holes in the logs of our cabin and we see a lot of them with straw or dried grass sticking out of them - is this a infestation of a bug that is going to eat the wood of the logs or is this just a place to live for them?"
Pam Polk McCord on Friday 13 November 2015
"Hi Pam. It sounds like you may have solitary bees or a similar insect. However, I am not an expert in identification of insects, so it would be safer to ask an expert and to find out whether your wood needs treating - you don't want your cabin to come to any harm!"
Ben Vanheems on Monday 16 November 2015
"Thanks for the great ideas! I featured them on ColorfulCanary! http://www.colorfulcanary.com/2016/02/hives-and-hotels-attract-more-bees-with.html"
Colorful Canary on Wednesday 24 February 2016
"Hey! I was wondering whether the backside should look similar to the front (Meaning with all kinds of materials as homes for insects.) Or should it be closed with a wall, so the wind isn't such a problem?"
NIna on Monday 16 May 2016
"Hi NIna. It's generally best to have them closed off on one side to offer some shelter. Double-sided insect hotels can work, however, if the materials are deep enough so that they don't become soaked every time it rains."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 16 May 2016
"Will an insect hotel attract and encourage population growth of undesirable insects - such as those that would feast on our plants?"
Alicia on Friday 20 May 2016
"Gardening is very much about balance. Encouraging beneficial insects will help to stem the growth of pests. So while you may arguably attract a couple of undesirables, the vast majority will be beneficial, giving a net positive impact on your gardening."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 23 May 2016
"Please advise the best time of year to put out a new bug hotel."
Bea on Monday 23 May 2016
"A new bug hotel can go out at any time of year. I guess you might argue that late summer is a good time, so that insects have somewhere to go and shelter for the coming winter. But really any time is a good time."
Ben Vanheems on Tuesday 24 May 2016
"Hi. For the last couple of years Ive found that ladybirds use recesses inside my window frames to overwinter. I suspect this is because I dont start closing them until its starts getting cold. I sort of discovered this when the bathroom window was opened during the winter months to let steam out and I kept getting lots of ladybirds in the bathroom. I have bought some "insect houses" to help them out but Im unsure as to where to place them, do they go high up or low down, on fence or wall of house etc? Many thanks."
Kathy Shaw on Thursday 11 August 2016
"Hi Kathy. The exact same thing happened to me a few years ago! The best thing is to place ladybird houses in a sheltered, dry position - attached to a wall that is in a rain shadow would be ideal. It doesn't matter too much how high it is, so long as it's off the ground."
Ben Vanheems on Saturday 13 August 2016
"Hi there, I put up a bug hotel last year and it was used succesfully. It has been used again this year, but unfortunately I am about to move house. Can I take the bug hotel (complete with sleeping residents) with me to hatch out into their (my) new garden, or will it disturb them too much?"
Snow on Friday 23 September 2016
"Hi. Must admit, if it was me, Id leave well alone and leave what youve accomplished behind knowing its serving its purpose and do it all over again at your new house hoping for same results. The bugs will be the biggest winners then and you'll know youve helped them at two locations. :-)"
Kathy Shaw on Friday 23 September 2016
"That sounds great but I am concerned that the new people might not want it and could destroy it anyway (I rent so I don't know who is moving in)... It was only a small, shop-bought one so moving it would be very easy. I have plenty of time to move house so I could take it over very carefully...with that info, would you still leave it behind?"
Snow on Friday 23 September 2016
"Yeah, I know what you mean. People are unpredictable but who knows, you could maybe even be educating future tenants. You could take it with you and know its safe and sound or leave it and hope for the best. If you do move about and did put something cheap and cheerful up at every home you occupy just think of the nice nature footprint youd be leaving behind for the bugs each time you move. Im not judge and jury and Im sure whatever you decide to do will be for the right reasons. Good luck either way. :-)"
Kathy Shaw on Friday 23 September 2016
"Ok, thanks! It is a difficult one. I suppose I really just wanted to know if moving it would harm the pupae inside but as you say, it might nudge the new tenants in the right direction if I leave it for them. Thanks for your advice and I will keep you posted! :)"
Snow on Friday 23 September 2016
"What a great article! I work for a nonprofit that does nature-based education at schools. We are battling with one school district about putting these up. They just can't understand that these are not like bee hives and are for beneficial insects. Any suggestions you might have would be greatly appreciated. I am going to forward this article to one of the principals. Thanks so much!"
Patti Berryhill on Tuesday 17 January 2017
"Wow Patti - that's hard if they can't appreciate the distinct difference between bee hives and insect hotels. I guess you could emphasise the education nature of these insect hotels - the fact they are encourage biodiversity and how they will feed off other insects and equally provide food for creatures further up the foodchain - a great practical biology lesson! There's also wider lessons about out impact on the environment and how, in even a small way, everyone can make a small difference. Do emphasise the fact these are benign and will really tap into a child's curiosity about the natural world - which is innate in every little person. Irrespective of political stance, if our children are to be better custodians on the planet than we have been, then little things such as this are so important to help them begin to understand the wonder and diversity of life. Insect hotels in schools are pretty standard here in the UK (and probably a lot of Europe). It would be great to see them in every school in every country! Good luck with it Patti. Please report back and let us know how you get on."
Ben Vanheems on Wednesday 18 January 2017
"Just wondering how high up from the ground would get the best results."
Elaine on Friday 20 January 2017
"They can sit on the ground, without a problem. This may possibly attract ground-dwelling beetles. Or they can go higher up for insects that fly in - lacewings, ladybirds/bugs, solitary bees etc. So it really doesn't matter. I guess try to keep it protected from wind if possible - that's more important than height."
Ben Vanheems on Friday 20 January 2017
"I'm going to put a bug hotel up"
Logan on Sunday 19 February 2017
"I'm going to put a bug hotel up"
Logan on Sunday 19 February 2017
"Should the tubes be cleaned out every winter? I have read somewhere that they should, otherwise infection sets in and the hotel becomes unatrractive to bugs after one season. Unfortunately the bug hotels you buy at a Garden Centre all have fixed backs and cannoy be cleaned. What would you advise?"
Debbie on Tuesday 21 February 2017
"MY comment sems to have been deleted and I can't distinguish between capitals and lower case letters in the Security Code."
Debbie on Tuesday 21 February 2017
"Hi Debbie. Your comment came through okay. In answer to your question, there shouldn't be any need to clean out the insect hotel once it's made - just leave it to nature. "
Ben Vanheems on Wednesday 22 February 2017
"This is helpful info. I recently put out a bug hotel, but it is right in the middle of our windy season in the Spring. Since have checked it, I still have full vacancy, but this may be due to the wind and rain. So I will find another location for it and see if that helps."
Stephanie on Tuesday 11 April 2017
"I loved this site. It is inspiring. Just one point - what are the depths and diameter of the drill holes. I suppose bigger bugs need bigger holes, so I assume a variety of sizes would be best."
Helen Drake on Saturday 15 April 2017
"Hi Helen. You're right - a variety of holes works best - any thing from a tenth of a inch (2mm) up to half an inch (12mm) is ideal. Drill them as deep as you can, so the holes are better shielded from the wind and rain."
Ben Vanheems on Tuesday 18 April 2017
"I have no garden, but I do have a 20m2 sedum roof on the 4th floor that is attracting an astonishing number of bumblebees and a number of other pollinating insects that are too small for me to identify. The sedum should flower all summer long and there are lots of trees, parks and gardens in the area. I wondering if it is worthwhile placing such a hotel on the 4th floor (facing east and protected from the prevailing wind)? "
Glenn on Monday 12 June 2017
"Absolutely. Many bugs will fly in, so the fact you're on the 4th floor shouldn't matter so much. The sedum roof sounds incredible - what a fantastic asset to have."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 12 June 2017
"Hi Ben In the process of constructing a bug hotel. I was told to position the "bug hotel" in a north / north east location, is this correct. also any advantage to paint the bug hotel in a particular colour to attract the bugs. Thanks Colleen"
Colleen on Tuesday 13 June 2017
"Hi Colleen. It kind of depends on your climate, if it's very hot where you are then I'd be inclined to position it in a cooler, shadier location. But a sun-facing location is great if you're trying to attract insects such as solitary bees. A north/north-east location - assuming you're in Australia/NZ - would be perfect to help the hotel warm up first thing in the morning and throughout the day. With regards painting the bug hotel, it's really up to you. I'd be inclined not to paint it, or at least just the outside of the house, to keep it as natural as possible inside. I know lots of creatures are attracted to bright colours like yellow. But I don't imagine it would make a big difference to be honest."
Ben Vanheems on Wednesday 14 June 2017
"Thanks for all this great info! I just recently bought a bug hotel and have just a small yard with limited locations to hang it. I am a devoted bird feeder so there are lots of birds in and out of my yard. Will they bother the bug hotel? I'm inclined to hang it beside a big tree where many of the birds roost. Or near the bird feeders as I have flowers there. Help!"
Carolyn on Monday 10 July 2017
"Hi Carolyn. There is every chance that insect-eating birds may eat one or two of the bugs from or around your hotel. But this is all part of a healthy garden ecosystem after all, so I wouldn't let this influence where you locate your bug hotel. Placing it in or near a big tree sounds like a perfectly good place to locate it - so do go with that. You could also locate it near any flowers for pollination. But either way I wouldn't worry too much - insects will travel and any new bug hotel to your garden will have a positive effect. Why not add a couple?!"
Ben Vanheems on Monday 10 July 2017

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