Pollinators and other insects are quick to lend a helping hand in our gardens through the spring and summer months, and it’s up to gardeners and other Earth-loving humans to repay the favour for the cooler months
It’s estimated that our gardens are home to an average of 2000 insect species and they all play their part in making sure our gardens thrive—whether it’s eating pests and pollinating our plants, or contributing to the larger ecosystem and attracting other wildlife to our yards. With the increased urban sprawl and loss of natural habitats, it’s crucial to protect these insects for the winter season.
Creating a safe haven or “insect hotel” helps with species loss and it also makes for a beautiful garden art display and activity for you, your friends, your kids and loved ones this autumn.
Who will benefit from your insect hotel?
Photo by Daniel Cooke on UnsplashThere are a number of insects who may pay a visit to your humble shelter. Though we’re calling it a hotel, many insects may hibernate and then live in the space for up to nine months.
Solitary bees: These aren’t lonely bees; this is just their nesting habits. There are around 200 species of solitary bees from mason bees, mining bees and leaf-cutter bees, and all of these non-aggressive bees don’t live in hives or colonies like honeybees. Females have to go out and find a safe nesting site, and your hotel may be just the place they’re looking for.
Lacewings: These insects are also known as aphid lions for their love of hunting and munching on the famous garden pest. They consume a large number of aphids and reduce the need for spraying harmful chemicals, which definitely warrants them a resting spot for the winter.
Ladybugs: Another predatory favourite, ladybugs keep gardens pest-free and look good doing it. They’re always hunting for a safe place to hibernate over the winter and to lay their eggs, which will increase the population of beneficial insects come spring.
Many other insects will benefit from your insect hotel, and it all depends on where you live and what food you have available for these insects.
What should the structure look like?
Photo by Tania Malréchauffé on UnsplashThe insect hotel structure should replicate nature in as many ways as possible, and it’s helpful to research which types of beneficial insects you have in your area and how they like to nest for the winter before building your habitat. You can focus on one species of insect for a B&B-style home or make it a full chain hotel and host them all.
Gather natural materials: Once you know which insects you’re hosting, it’s time to gather your supplies. Since we’re replicating nature, we can go outside and responsibly gather materials for the home. Be sure not to go into the woods and take from other insects’ resources, but if you have stacks of logs, bamboo garden stems, mulch, straw, pinecones or autumn leaves that you would have disposed of (or your neighbour would have gathered anyway), you can put them to good use.
Gather old home supplies: Pallets, bricks, cardboard, paper towel or toilet paper rolls are all great resources around the home that make for great slotted spots for our insect friends. Having a variety of openings will attract a variety of insects, while using up those unwanted materials declutters and repurposes them.
Start big and fill in the gaps: Start with those bigger items and then pack the smaller, insulating items in later. If you don’t make the spaces tight enough, parts may fall out when you hang it, but be careful not to crush the spaces. If you’re drilling into logs or using toilet paper rolls, make sure the backs are covered so as to not create wind tunnels for the insects. Also, be sure to sand down any wood you’re using as splinters can catch onto insects’ bodies.
Seal your compartments: Place chicken wire and not mesh wiring over the structure. The larger holes will allow insects to fly in and out with ease before the cool weather but will protect them from birds and other pray that will try to have them as a snack.
Find the right spot and hang it: Hang the hotel around 1.5 metres off the ground—this can be off your fence or balcony, but if you’re hanging it on a tree, use straps and don’t nail into it. The best spot for your insect hotel will be in a sheltered area away from rain, snow and the elements, and one that isn’t in full sun or shade, but that has access to both.
Sit back and watch the activity: The best part is watching for visitors before the winter season rolls in. Have fun with this! Make it an autumn project and record which insects found their way to you. Don’t lose hope if it’s not as busy in its first year as it might be more successful in its second year. All that matters is that you provided a habitat for insects through the winter, and they’ll be rested and ready to help out in the garden once again come spring.
You can check out some more neat structures and inspiration for your insect hotel here.