No matter what size garden you have encouraging wildlife will help to create a diverse environment on your doorstep. This will not only benefit your plants via increased pollination but also welcome a host of wonderful creatures from insects, butterflies, bees, birds and mammals. Building a bug hotel can also help encourage your children to garden. Providing a mini wildlife safari activity for you and your children.
Whilst there’s plenty of guides online that show beautiful bug hotels, the harsh reality is they are not fit for purpose. I’m going to explain exactly what to look for in a bug hotel and how building your own is both easy and more beneficial for your carbon footprint!
- Why you should avoid ready made bug hotels
- Why build a bug hotel?
- Key features of a bug/insect hotel
- How to build a bug hotel from pallets
- How to build a solitary bee hotel
- Encouraging lacewings to the garden
- Creating a home for ladybirds
What’s wrong with shop-bought bug hotels?
The biggest issue with shop-bought bug and insect hotels is that they have been designed to look pretty before any real consideration is made for wildlife. You may notice that there’s a variety of spaces with different materials in fancy shapes or layouts. Some of them are even painting in bright dayglo colours (Not so great to hide away from predators).
However, these spaces are often too small for creatures to happily colonise or worst the spaces are too large meaning that preditors of the very bugs you’re looking to encourage can enter the hotel.
Another issue with bug hotels is that they try and encourage competing insects to the hotel. This can spell disaster to various creepie crawlies as the very refuge you’re creating is also offering them up as a buffet to their predators. In fact, some entomologists (people who specialise in studying insects) have reported that bug hotels can actually decimate populations due to increased parasites or competing predators.
This seems to be especially true for solitary bees and the canes used to attract them which are left unmaintained spreading disease. Kate Bradbury has written that mismanaged bee hotels, that are left without being cleaned each year, can wipe out entire colonies of different solitary bees.
Why build a bug hotel?
Nature is struggling. The increased paving over of our gardens, urbanisation and pesticide use has all led to a decline in the numbers of insects and wildlife. Bees are more notably reported to be decreasing each decade.
Building a bug or insect hotel can help reverse this change by offering refuge in our gardens to wild life. Not only that but by increasing diversity you also encourage birds which can help reduce your garden slugs and snails. So it’s beneficial to everyone!
What to look out for in an insect hotel
Here are a few tips on what to look out for in a bug hotel if you’re buying one ready-made.
- Ability to fix the bug hotel in a stable position (ones hanging off ropes are highly unsuitable as they move in the wind)
- Smooth edged bamboo canes or tubes that are between 6-10mm in diameter
- Canes at least 100mm/10cm deep
- Canes that can be removed or easily accessed for cleaning each spring.
- Easy access to replace materials as they biodegrade or get damaged
- Bug hotels that haven’t been treated with harsh paints or stains that can leach out and harm the insects/birds
- A bug hotel that’s accessible from all sides or at least 3.
How to build a bug hotel
Building a bug hotel is relatively straight forward. In my guide to building a bug hotel, I prefer to use wooden pallets and natural materials. This is because it helps recycle materials you may already have in your garden further reducing your carbon footprint whilst encouraging wildlife! What’s not to love?
For this bug hotel you will need:
- 2 Wooden pallets of the same size
- A wood saw
- Herbaceous clippings
- Tree prunings / branches
- Dried leaves
- Off cuts of wood (various sizes)
- A number of bricks (ideally with air holes in
- Sedum or wildflower turf for the root
1.The first thing to do is to cut your pallets down to size. Most wooden pallets will have a central support bar. I make the first cut on the right of this. It then leaves you with two long rectangles one larger than the other.
2. Next I then cut the larger piece again into two. Again cutting to the right of the middle support bar of this piece. It will leave two square (ish) pieces of the pallet. One bigger than the other.
3. Do this with the second pallet and you should be left with 2 larger square pieces and 2 smaller pieces. Along with offcuts which can be further cut up or taken apart to use as the material to fill the bug hotel with.
4. Find a suitable location in which to build your bug hotel. Avoid anywhere too busy or near the front of garden borders. If it’s too close to humans then you may find that insects avoid the hotel. Nestle it at the back of a border somewhere quiet to encourage the most wildlife.
5. Put 4 bricks down on the floor to raise the base off the ground. If it sits directly on the soil it may start to rot. Also by elevating it you’re creating a nice crawl space for insects and other garden wildlife like slow worms.
6. Add your one of the bigger pallets as the base on top of these 4 bricks. This is the base of your bug hotel.
7. Add four bricks, one in each corner, on the base then add one of the smaller pallet offcuts. The pallet off cut will only have one support on it meaning it sits at a slant. Use two bricks to raise the free side up.
8. Layer up your bug hotel in this way until all the parts have been used up except for the remaining large square ( the matching piece to the base will become the roof).
9. Add the final large pallet as the lid. In my guide, I’m using a sedum green roof tile to finish off the bug hotel. However, you could use some wildflower turf or other succulent plants to pretty up the roof! The roof should overhang the rest of the insect hotel to offer protection against the rain. I finish my roof off with some bricks to tie it all together nicely.
10. You can then start adding materials to the bug hotel for your inhabitants. I use a mix of twigs (tree prunings), herbaceous clippings from the Exploding Atom Garden, Bits of old wood (including any remaining pallet offcuts), dried leaves and broken bits of terracotta pots.
Once your bug hotel is complete it should be a mecca for all sorts of wildlife offering a safe haven for them to breed and overwinter. Note that you can refill your bug hotel is need be as the materials biodegrade meaning it will last far longer than a shop-bought insect hotel.
How to build a solitary bee hotel
More often than not shop bought bug hotels try and accommodate too many insect types at the same time, especially solitary bees who nest in tubes. Which can cause insects to end up either preying on each other or becoming a target for parasites. Solitary bees are one very exacting inhabitant that I believe warrant their own separate hotel to protect them.
This is why I never add bamboo canes to my bug hotel. Firstly, unless they are sanded off to remove splinters they can actually injure solitary bees and lacewings. The second issue is they are usually far too big or the wrong depth to be useful.
Solitary bees nest in tubes between 6mm and 10mm (there are exceptions but these diameters are the best rough fit).
Bee hotels will require yearly maintenance and cleaning which is the second reason why shop bought ones should be avoided. More often than not the bamboo or paper tubes are not removable. Once the solitary bees have nested, laid their eggs in the tubes and pupated they will hatch the following spring. Eating their way out of tube, where the female often lays multiple eggs in individual chambers.
These tubes need to be cleaned once they have hatched to remove debris and reduce the risk of disease or parasites. Shop bought bee hotels rarely are designed with this purpose in mind.
One way to make a solitary bee hotel is to use fence posts that already may exist in your garden, making this an almost zero cost option! There’s no need to be sawing bamboo canes and you can clean them with a pipe cleaner each spring.
What you will need for a solitary bee hotel
- Fence posts at least 10cm deep
- Long wood drill bits 6mm,8mm and 10mm
- Tape measure
1.Measure your fence posts to roughly mark out the 10cm depth you will need. They also need to be between 15-2m off the ground. In a South or Southeastern facing garden aspect/position. They like full sun in the day and to be away from too much vegetation. So don’t place them behind dense shrubs!
2. Using a wood drill bit drill in a number of different diameter holes. 6mm, 8mm and 10mm preferably.
3. Drill your holes on a slight angle facing downwards to protect them from rain or filling up with water.
4. Sand off any splinters to the entrance and thats it!
Each spring I will wait for any bees to emerge and then using a pipe cleaner give each of these holes a good clean. That way when new bees arrive the have a more hygenic nesting spot with less chance of disease or parasites.
Encouraging Lacewings to the garden
Lacewings are not only beautiful flying insects but they are a natural defence against aphids who they feed off voraciously! You may see plastic bottle lacewing hotels and other shop-bought ones featuring corrugated cardboard. Whilst these work they tend to have a short shelf life and can easily become damaged by rain and elements. There are 18 species of Lacewing in the UK and are seen very much as the gardener’s friend.
Both adult Lacewings and larvae are carnivorous and often feast on aphids in the garden. The larvae can suck the aphids’ juices as they pierce their bodies. They are truly tenacious creatures and can even use the drained bodies to hide under if need be!
Lacewing females like to lay their eggs on the underside of herbaceous leaves attached to threads of mucus these eggs sometimes look like hairs. The best environment for Lacewings to nest is by increasing the number of herbaceous perennials you have in the garden. They tend to prefer to lay on these over bug hotels.
However, you can use cuttings of herbaceous leaves and stalks to then stack in your bug hotel which can encourage them. I, however, just make sure I have plenty of variety in the garden which seems to attract them!
Bug Hotel Guide for Ladybirds
Ladybirds are another garden champion eating their way. Their bright red spots warn off predators due to their bitter taste and they can also emit a pungent aroma to help protect themselves.
With around 40 species in the UK, they are the best known of all the aphid eaters in the garden. Ladybirds love leaf litter to hibernate in during winter meaning your bug hotel can be an excellent place for them to stay.
They then emerge in spring to feed and mate. The females lay eggs which only take around 4 days to hatch. Their larvae are a blue with cream spots that then feed fearlessly off aphids and other small insects as they go through a process of moulting until they reach their bright red colour.
Bug Hotel Summary
By building a bug hotel you’re not only helping to give mother nature a helping hand but you become far more connected to your own garden. You’ll be amazed at the creatures in encourages and the benefits you’ll see in your own garden by building a bug hotel of any size. You’re also reusing materials that otherwise would go to waste, so you’re also helping to reduce your carbon footprint which benefits everyone!
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