A Complete Guide To Insect Hotels
Perhaps you've heard something about insect houses or bug hotels recently. It is a garden design feature that is getting quite a lot of popularity these days. But what are these structures? What are their functions? Is it worth having one in your garden, and if so, which one is the best or how to build one for yourself?
What are insect hotels?
Insect hotel is a somewhat misleading name as these structures are not occupied by insects for a short time but serve as nesting sites all season long. Various species hibernate and lay eggs in them and as they are built from a range of different sized and shaped small tubes, can become home to a wide range of creepy crawlies.
Without insects, our gardens would just be dead pieces of land. They pollinate our plants, fight pests, attract other wild animals, help break down organic matter. According to the Wildlife Trust, an average garden can harbour over 2,000 different types of beneficial insects. Find a shelter for them, and you will help mother nature and yourself.
If you feel you don't have any interesting features in your garden, this may be the solution to this problem. Buy a decent one or unleash your creativity and build yourself. It is a great opportunity to get to know nature and local wildlife.
Do you like watching wildlife programs? Why not see a part of it in your own garden. Insects are fascinating creatures. You will observe their behaviour and life cycle. Moreover, it is very therapeutic. Every aspect of owning an insect hotel, whether it's building, observing or maintaining it, lowers your stress levels and keeps your mind active.
Choose a decent one
Choose your insect hotel wisely. They are becoming more and more popular. Unfortunately, many vendors offer poorly designed or poorly made options. Avoid them with cones, splinters, tunnels drilled into soft wood. I highly recommend taking the time to read articles or a blog written by an entomologist. For example, Marc Carlton or Werner David.
Don't waste your money on cute looking insect hotels. Soft wood will crack, cones and pieces of wood will not be colonized. Note that sometimes there are added photos of insects in the editor just to trick you into buying it.
Another example. Overall ok construction, but look at these tubes. They are full of splinters. No sane bee would come close to such a trap.
Don't expect bees and butterflies to hibernate in such a structure. Only a few butterflies in Great Britain hibernate as adult forms and look for shelter in attics, cellars, caves, piles of wood. It is really unlikely that the butterfly would choose this hotel over its other usual options.
Do it yourself
Building your own insect hotel is quite simple. First, think about what type of insect you want to attract. Solitary bees, ladybugs, bumblebees and lacewings need all kinds of shelters for nesting and hibernation.
- Solitary bees look for holes 2–10 mm diameter to lay eggs.
- Ladybirds like dry sticks and leaves.
- Bumblebees tend to hibernate underground, in compost heaps or in shaded corners and dry places under eaves.
- Lacewings need dry straw, grass or cardboard.
Once you've decided which insect is your target and what it needs, you can let your creativity run free. Remember that you will have to do some maintenance, so try to keep it small and simple. Huge structures that contain hundreds of insect compartments can be problematic to manage, but can also become a hotel for fungal diseases and parasites due to their dense concentration. There are some basic rules you need to keep in mind.
- Provide shelter from rain; everything inside must be completely dry.
- Use materials without any chemicals to not repel insects.
- Do not use impermeable materials such as glass or plastic.
- Drilled tubes must be smooth without any splinters. Use hardwood such as oak, ash or beech.
- The structure should be sturdy.
- Place your insect hotel in the right spot. If it's for bees, find a place in full sun at least a metre off the ground.
- Remember to install it well to prevent shaking and swaying in the wind.
- To prevent birds from destroying nests you can use wire netting attached at least 5 cm away from tubes and tunnels.
Here the design is good, but it should not be hung on a tree branch, especially a thin one. The structure will sway. Besides, this wire will also cause damage to the tree.
Don’t use softwood. It will crack
This is an example of a good design. Simple, efficient and easy access for maintenance
Birds might find your insect hotel as a free buffet. Here is a simple way to stop them. Attached to the structure in November. Made by Manfred Frey
Examples of well-designed insect hotels.
Insect hotels require maintenance, as it's important for their tenants to be healthy and happy. Remember that the right insect hotels are made of natural materials, so they will decompose over time and will have to be replaced with new ones.
The best time for this is spring after the insect eggs hatch, and the tenants have left the premises. You must get rid of any residue, debris, and old loose, dry materials to prevent fungus and mites from spreading.
Depending on the style of your insect hotel, the cleaning process will vary.
For example, if you drilled holes, check for bees. You can determine this by missing a cap and remaining debris. Take a pipe cleaner, a long stiff brush, or blow compressed air into the tunnels. Make sure tunnels are nice and dry. On stretches where you have used dry material such as straw or cardboard, simply replace it with fresh plant stems, making sure to clean up any old residual material.
You can make maintenance easier by purchasing or building an insect hotel that has removable sections. Then you just need to disassemble one, clean it thoroughly and put it back together.
If you are really keen and you have a cool greenhouse, shed, warehouse or any place where it's dry, you can take some insect hotels inside for the winter. This can help make sure that the eggs and larvae are not affected by moisture, parasites or birds such as a woodpecker or a tit.
For example, you can bring the bee hotels to your shed, open them if you can, and check their condition. You can get rid of any material that the bees bring to the building of the brood cells as it is not needed if you keep the conditions dry and cool. Gently check each cocoon. If you notice a hole in the cocoon, it's a sign that a parasitic wasp has laid an egg in it and you need to get rid of it.
To make sure the cocoons are fungus-free, prepare a bath for them (one tablespoon of bleach for each cup of water) after about 15 minutes, remove the cocoons (if any of them has sunk in the water, throw them away. Sinking cocoons indicate a dead bee). Dry all healthy cocoons on a paper towel and place in a dry, cool (about 0–5 °C) and dark place. You can use a plastic food container, just make some vents. In spring the temperature is frequently above 10 °C. Place the cocoons outside where it will be safe from the birds. If you have put the cleaned bee box back in place, you can also put the cocoons back into the brooding tunnels.
If you want to incorporate an insect hotel into your landscaping project, or need help choosing one that will best benefit your garden, feel free to contact us.
For more information you can look at the following references:
Author: Vito (Garden Designer)