The average garden can be home to thousands of different bugs and insects. While some of these creatures, such as aphids, can be harmful or destructive, others are more helpful. For example ladybugs will predate aphids, helping to keep their numbers down and your plants safe.
However, insect numbers are declining. One of the main causes for this is the destruction of their natural habitat. Large changes, such as the re-purposing of farm land, as well as simple acts such as tidying gardens and repairing crumbling masonry are all having an effect. If you want to help the insects, and increase the number of beneficial insects in your garden, why not try building a bug hotel?
A bug hotel is a great way of using natural materials to encourage beneficial insects to visit and inhabit your garden.
Not only will a bug hotel attract beneficial insects to your garden, and helping wildlife, it is also a great way of getting young children interested in wildlife and the outdoors. The ever changing residents of the bug house may even tempt them away from the trampoline or swing set. A thriving bug house houses many different species. With a guide book and a magnifying glass, children can spend hours happily monitoring the bug hotel and learning to identify different species.
If you want to build your own bug hotel this article is for you. We will guide you through the entire process, from choosing the perfect location to selecting the best materials to use. If you don’t have a large garden, don’t despair, we will also look at smaller bug hotels that can be placed on patios or balconies. This means that however large or small your outdoor space, you can help insects thrive.
What is a bug Hotel?
Natural environments have lots of hiding places for insects, under pieces of bark, between the gaps in rocks, or in leaf piles, hollow plant stems and dead logs. Many gardeners dislike leaving these items around their garden, as it can look untidy. Preferring instead to chip the wood and dispose of it. However by clearing up, gardeners accidentally remove the habitat that many useful insects and bugs adore. Bug hotels are a way of providing the habitat that bugs like while also keeping your garden tidy.
What Might Check in to my bug Hotel
The best bug hotels use lots of different materials. This means that they can provide lots of cosy spaces for insects and bugs of all different shapes and sizes. Ideally some areas will be dry and snug while others will be cooler and damper.
The more materials used in your hotel, the wider the variety of creatures you will attract.
Depending on the materials used, solitary bees, masonry bees, leaf cutter bees, woodlice, spiders, earwigs, ladybirds and lacewings will all take up residence. Additionally in larger hotels you may find hedgehogs, toads and frogs amongst your residents.
Remember, the greater the variety of habitats you provide, the more insects you’ll attract.
When Can I Build a Bug Hotel?
The best time to make a bug hotel is in the late summer or early autumn months. At this time many of the natural elements, such as dried leaves and plant cuttings, are easily, and naturally, available. Constructing as the start of autumn coincides with the time that many bugs and insects begin to look for the ideal home to hibernate in before the winter temperatures arrive.
Where to Build a Bug Hotel?
Different bugs and insects like different conditions. Some like warm, sunny spots while others prefer cooler, damp conditions. To attract, and help, as many insects as possible you will need to select the ideal site. Your insect hotel should, ideally, be somewhere that will catch some sun, but will also receive shade. Placing it under a tree or near a hedge is ideal.
Placing your hotel in a shady location will help the insects to stay cool and safe.
You should also select a site with a flat, even surface. A larger hotel can be surprisingly heavy. Siting it on a on a flat, level site will help to ensure that it doesn’t topple over or slip. Finally, if you have vegetable beds, try to locate the hotel as far away from them as possible.
A successful bug hotel is a long term addition to the garden. Make sure that you are happy with your chosen site before you begin to build.
Building a Bug Hotel
To build a large hotel, capable of catering for a number of different species you will need a few things:
- Wooden pallets
- Old roofing felt, carpet or tiles
A large hotel needs a strong and stable framework. The easiest way to construct this is to repurpose some reclaimed wooden pallets. These pallets are ideal because they are tough and durable, meaning they will last for a good few years. They also come with useful, ready made gaps.
Wooden pallets are not only easy to acquire they can also easily be turned into a strong and stable frame for your hotel.
Use the bricks to create a sturdy base to stand your hotel on. A h-shape layout with a brick in each corner should provide a stable base. However if you feel the need to you can add more bricks. Once you are happy with your base you can begin stacking the wooden pallets on top.
Most bug hotels are about four pallets, or a meter high. However, this is your hotel, it can be as tall, or as short as you like. A four pallet bug hotel is relatively stable but for extra security, or if you are creating a taller structure, I recommend screwing the pallets together as you build the structure. Alternatively, you can tie the pallets together with string or cable ties.
This hotel makes use of wooden pallets for its frame. The spaces are then filled with lots of different materials, attracting a wide variety of bugs.
If you don’t have the bricks to make a base lay the bottom pallet upside down. This not only creates a stable base but also means that the ends of the bug hotel will have large openings. These can be turned into a hedgehog or toad house. Secure the following pallets on top as you would do with a brick frame.
Filling the Gaps in your Bug Hotel
Once you have created a stable structure you will need to fill it. You are aiming to create as many different crevices, tunnels, nooks and crannies with as many different materials as possible. Remember, the more habitats you provide the more insects, bugs and other creatures you will attract.
These are some of the more commonly used materials, and what sort of insects they attract.
When using your leaf vacuum to hoover up all the stray garden leaves, remember to set some aside for your garden insects.
Piles of dry leaves are the perfect habitat for lots of smaller creatures as well as hedgehogs.
Dry leaf piles are great for smaller creatures, as they create the feel of a forest floor. Placing the leaves in the larger holes at the base of the hotel can also create an ideal habitat for hedgehogs.
This provides the ideal habitat for lacewings. A particularly useful garden inhabitants, lacewing larvae is a natural predator of the aphid.
Corrugated cardboard is a great habitat for insects such as lacewings.
To encourage lacewings to your hotel, simply roll up a piece of corrugated cardboard and put it in a waterproof cylinder, such as a clean plastic pop bottle with the ends off. This creates the waterproof, cosy habitat that lacewings adore.
Dead Wood or Loose Bark
These materials attract a number of different creepy crawlies such as spiders, woodlice, centipedes, and beetles. Many of these creatures such as centipedes like to make their home in the crevices found beneath bark.
Rough, dry bark is a great hiding place for lots of creepy crawlies.
An increasingly rare habitat, dead wood also houses the larvae of wood-boring beetles. It also supports different types of fungi, which help to break down the woody material.
Dry Leaves, Sticks, Straw and Hay
All of these, either on their own or in combination, attract many different invertebrates such as beetles and ladybugs, another natural aphid predator. It is also a great way to use the cuttings from hedges or shrubs. If you struggle to maintain larger plants or hedges, why not invest in a reliable hedge trimmer.
Hay, straw and twigs are all great filling materials for bug hotels. This is because they provide lots of little nooks and crannies for insects to inhabit. Source:
Aim to fill the space as completely as possible while still leaving some room for the insects. Creating a habitat for insects out of straw is a great way to use spare straw from a straw bale garden.
Hollow sticks or tubes, bamboo and small holes
As people strive to reduce their reliance on single use plastics, bamboo is becoming an increasingly popular product. From toothbrushes and straws to socks and duvet covers, bamboo is being used in a whole range of products. It is also an ideal habitat for solitary bees.
Hollow bamboo stalks make a great habitat for solitary bees and other insects.
Female solitary bees like to lay their eggs the hollow stems. Each bee lays up to 30 eggs before sealing the tube. Solitary bees can choose to lay male or female eggs. As male bees tend to wake earlier the female tends to lay female eggs at the back of the tube and male eggs at the front. By the time the female bees emerge the following spring, the male bees have already broken through the mud seal and left the stem.
As well as bamboo canes, you can also use the dead hollow stems cut from herbaceous plants and shrubs Don’t use plastic straws.
Stones and Tiles
Fill larger holes at the bottom of the bug hotel with these materials to provide cool and damp conditions. If placed in the centre of your hotel these will give toads and frogs a frost-free place to spend the winter months. In return they will eat any slugs inhabiting your garden.
Frogs and toads like cool, dark and damp conditions. Provide space for one of these creatures in your hotel and they will happily feast on the slugs in your garden.
Much like in a composter, many of the organic materials, such as dry leaves, dead wood will slowly break down throughout the year. This means that you will need to refill your bug hotel each autumn.
Blocks of wood
If you have a wood burning stove why not donate one or two of the logs to your insect hotel. Drilling holes into blocks of wood will attract non-stinging bees. They love neat, round holes. Don’t use wood that has been pressure treated with chemicals. This can harm the bugs.
This hotel makes use of bricks and lumps of wood as well as smaller materials. There are no set rules here, use whatever materials you have to hand.
You can also use:
- Broken up terracotta pots or roofing tiles
- Bricks with holes in
- Logs and twigs
- Pine cones
- Stone chippings, as well as broken up bricks or pebbles
Remember, you can use as many or as few of these materials as you like. You can even add other materials such as old woolly jumpers or fluffy slippers.
Adding a Roof
A roof will help to keep your bug hotel fairly dry. You don’t need it to be completely watertight, just largely covered, so that it won’t get completely soaked every time it rains. There are a number of options for covering the hotel. Some old tiles or wooden planks covered with roofing felt is a simple option but will do the job. As will covering with old scraps of carpet.
A roof not only helps to keep your resident bugs dry, it can also be a way of attracting insects and adding a bit of color to your hotel.
If you want something more interesting why not try giving your bug hotel a green or brown roof. To do this cover the top of the bug hotel with old tiles or wood. Cover this surface with roofing felt and then spread over a layer of rubble or gritty soil.
Plants that love dry conditions will be able to grow here, especially if you have a deep enough layer of soil. Also wildflower seeds may land on the roof and take root.
Planting Around Your Bug Hotel
As well as planting flowers on the roof of your bug hotel you can also plant around the hotel, either in the ground or in containers.
Planting flowers that attracts bugs and insects will draw them to your hotel. The presence of these flowers may also benefit your garden by attracting insects and bugs that will predate more harmful garden inhabitants.
Consequently you can reduce your use of chemical controls and deterrents, helping to improve the health of your garden and the environment. Afterall if you’re using organic shampoo or makeup, why not make your garden organic as well.
As well as attracting insects to your garden, many companion plants, such as Sweet Alyssum also add color and fragrance.
This is a form of companion planting. The most effective method has flowers blooming just as others fail. This means that there are always beneficial plants in flower, providing insects with nectar and pollen. While some flowers will attract pollinators others will attract insects that will predate more harmful garden inhabitants, such as aphids.
This is a list of the more helpful garden plants:
- Black-eyed Susan
- Blue Lobelia
- Golden Marguerite
- Sweet Alyssum
- Queen Anne’s Lace
- Yellow Coneflower
Planting flowers for pollinators not only helps insects to thrive but it also benefits your garden.
You don’t need to plant all of these flowers. Even a small selection will help to attract bugs and insects to your hotel, meaning that it will soon be inhabited.
Smaller Bug Hotels
If you don’t have a large garden but still want to get involved and create a bug hotel here are some smaller options that are just as effective. With a bit of decoration, or discreet positioning, it won’t look out of place with your chic patio furniture.
Transform a Bird Box
One of the easiest options is to transform a birdhouse. It doesn’t even have to be a birdhouse, an old wooden box will do.
A bird box can easily be transformed into a small but functional insect hotel.
What you’ll need:
- An open bird house or wooden box
- Twigs, wood chips, leaves, hollow stems or bamboo, rolled up paper, pieces of wood with holes drilled in, cardboard tubing
- hot glue gun
- twine or wire to hang the finished bug hotel
Constructing your Bug Hotel
I find it best to get all the filling ready before you begin constructing, this means that you won’t have to stop and start. Tightly roll up the paper and leaves, if you are rolling them. Cut all the fillings down so that they are the right size and will fit neatly in the box.
Start gluing tubes in one by one. The best place to begin is in one of the bottom corners. This will act as a cornerstone, around which you can arrange the other tubes. As you arrange and fix in the tubes occasionally you will need to glue the bottom of a tube in place. This will help them to hold firmly in place. Use a glue gun to make things easier.
Don’t pack everything in too tightly. Try to leave some small spaces. While you are aiming to fill the box you don’t want to pack the stems in so tightly that they are crushing each other.
Using tubes of different sizes and thickness will not only look aesthetically interesting but will provide habitats for different insects.
Turn an old Plant pot into a Home for Solitary bees
If you have an old terracotta plant pot try packing it with dried, hollow stems. This is the ideal environment for solitary bees. Cut the stems so that they are all a similar length and sit nicely in the pot. Pack the stems in as tightly as possible so that they won’t fall out without squashing them.
By placing some netting across the top of the pot you can prevent the stems from falling out. This allows you to hang the pots upside down, or at an angle, preventing rain from getting in.
Place the pot in a dry corner of your garden. Position the pot on a nest of stones so that the open end is facing flat or slightly downwards, you don’t want too much rain getting in. While a shady spot is fine, the bees will enjoy it if the pot also catches a bit of winter sun.
Dead Wood Den
While it may be tempting to chip your dead or excess wood, bundling a pile of damp, rotting wood including twigs and bark together is a quick but effective way of creating the ideal bug habitat. You can either create a loose pile or make a neater structure by tying it together with string.
Place the pile in a cool corner of the garden and it will attract scores of creepy crawlies such as centipedes, spiders, beetles and woodlice. Drilling holes into the larger logs will entice even more creatures inside.
A simple pile of dead or decaying wood can play host to hundreds of creepy crawlies.
A bug hotel need not be a large, expensive or complex structure. As we have seen you can construct small, attractive hotels by recycling materials that you already have at home. Just as easy as feeding garden birds, bug hotels are a great way of helping nature and attracting beneficial insects and creatures to your garden.