April 26, 2018 Gardening Written by Sara Slavikova
Insect house
A garden buzzing with insects – for some

the equivalent of health and prosperity, for others a nightmare bringing many sleepless nights in fear of unwanted pest infestation. But the abundance of insects is not always a reason to worry. More often, it is actually a positive sign of an ecologically balanced environment.

Did you know that out of all known insects only one to three percent do harm to our produce? The remaining 97 to 99 percent perform crucial services for the ecosystem.

Some insects are responsible for the pollination of our food crops and flowers; some are part of the food chain, providing nutrition for bats and birds; and other decompose organic matter, which is important for maintaining soil fertility. Most gardeners appreciate insects that feed on garden pests and help keep their numbers low.

What can be easier than letting these pest predators do their job for us?

By promoting their presence in the garden, we can decrease the numbers of pests without the use of aggressive chemical pesticides that contaminate the environment and deliberately harm countless other species.

You can encourage the presence of beneficial insects in your garden by providing them a home. It is easy. You can do this by either planting perennial shrubs and trees that serve as a yearlong shelter, or leave a pile of twigs and leaves in a corner of the garden. If you would like to keep your garden clean but make sure these friendly insects stick around, there is a tidier option – build them a house. Insect house.

 

Good reasons why to have an insect house in the garden

Under normal circumstances, insects build their nests in well-protected cracks and crevices. However, most of us do not realize that to find a suitable habitat in residential areas becomes more and more difficult. With the modern development and the trend of smooth and clean surfaces, miles and miles of landscape lack diversity of natural material (dead wood, rotting leaves, twigs, etc.) insects seek.

This is not good news for us either. The lack of possibility to find a safe place to live and reproduce drives many beneficial insects away from our gardens. We need to revert this trend and invite insects back, because their activity plays an integral role in maintaining a successful garden.

Here are the most important reasons why we need to invite insects back:
 

#1 Increasing local biodiversity

What you should see when looking at your garden is a small piece of the local ecosystem with its intricate web of life. Every species within this ecosystem has its own vital function. The removal of a species often delivers negative consequences, such as pest infestations, plant diseases and loss of garden productivity.

For example, in a garden deprived of ladybug, lacewing and hoverfly presence, lice and mite populations are free to boom.

ladybug

Ladybug

Insects are the foundation of the ecological balance. An insect house in your garden will provide a nesting opportunity and hibernation place for many beneficial insects, thus, increasing insect diversity in the area and helping naturally restart important ecosystem services like soil formation, pollination and nutrient recycling.
 

#2 Safe place for solitary pollinators

One of the main causes of the bee decline is our interference with natural habitats. We destroy natural areas to expand cities and we claim hectares of land for pesticide-fed monoculture farming. This is especially harmful for solitary bee species that often have a small foraging range and make only short trips from their nest [1]. In areas with limited nesting opportunities and long distances between sources of food, many of these solitary bees cannot find a suitable habitat to prosper.

By offering them a safe place in your insect house, you will create a little haven for these tiny pollinators in the vast space of urbanized world. To your great advantage, solitary bees differ from honeybees. Most of them do not sting, yet they pollinate plants with the same diligence. They also destroy larvae of other insects, keeping your garden clean.

Bees are not the only pollinators that would make use of your insect house. Soon enough, you will see diversity of other pollinators, such as butterflies, beetles, moths and many other insects making themselves at home in the newly build structure.
 

#3 Biological pest control

Controlling common pests with the use of natural methods is more effective, healthier and cheaper in the long-term than spraying your garden with chemicals [2]. After all, one of the main principles found in nature is the balance between species and their populations. Even when the balance is momentarily disrupted with one species dominating others, it gradually resets over the time.

The same principle has been applied in the biological pest control, when gardeners and farmers take advantage of natural predators of pests to decrease their harmful presence.

For example: Lacewing larvae feed on mites, mealybugs, thrips, caterpillars and insect eggs. Ladybugs are a well-known remedy for aphid infestations. And different species of parasitic wasps eliminate whitefly, leafminter and worm colonies [3].

Lacewing

Lacewing

An amazing manifestation of the natural integrity is the cooperation between pest predators and plants themselves. Scientists have found out that plants call for help when attacked by parasites. They do this by releasing attractive odor that draws pest predators to them and rids them of troublesome pests.

Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it?

Well, an insect house accommodates many of these pest predators directly in your garden. So, it is easy to host them and benefit from their free services, which will probably initiate a positive chain of self-defensive effects in your garden.
 

#4 Improving soil fertility

With the increase of insect biodiversity and improved health of the plants, soils in your garden also maintain their fertility and nutrient content [4]. This is because herbivorous and omnivorous insects affect the amount and distribution of organic matter entering soils.

Many insects are important decomposers, helping to breakdown plant residues and turning important nutrients back into the soil. They are a vital part of nutrient recycling in nature. Without them chewing, tearing apart and digesting larger pieces of organic material like leaves, stems or even carcasses of other insects, soils would be devoid of nutrients.

You may soon discover that your insect house hosts many different beetles. If that’s the case, be happy, because beetles are known as hard-working composters – they feed on decaying vegetables, fruits and plants, or prey on snails and other insects, while pollinating plants and enriching soils with nutrients.

In fact, without prompt decomposition and cleaning work of beetles, our lands would be suffocating in slowly rotting debris [5]. They are the most perfect assistants of every gardener.
 

#5 Connection to the nature and ecology

Not terribly long ago, a familiarity with nature was a part of everyday decision-making.

Without understanding of ecological processes and possessing the necessary knowledge of utilizing natural resources, our ancestors could not have survived. Sadly enough, technological advances and urbanization are widening the gap in our understanding of the nature and other living organisms.

This creates a problem. Once we lose the connection, we lose respect and appreciation of the environment and its inhabitants of all sizes and shapes.

Insects, in general, do not belong to most admired creatures and their appearance does not help it either. But by learning about them and watching their behavior, you may learn a lot about their ecology and reconnect once again with their neglected world.

A beautiful insect house in your garden, buzzing with life and activity is also a great natural therapy for a troubled and overwhelmed mind. Have you heard of all the health benefits nature has on our wellbeing?

Large insect house

Large insect house

#6 Your garden will look prettier and will buzz with life

Insect houses can be a personalized piece of art that will bring a new life to your garden. Each insect house looks different because each garden setting is different. The variety of insects inhabiting them will be different as well.

It is only up to you to decide what size and design you want to choose and where to place the house. You may use it to cover barren spots or incorporate it beautifully between blossoming flowers to catch an eye of each passerby.

Insect houses simply allow for brilliant connection of aesthetics and functionality in your garden.
 

What is an insect house and how does it look like?

An insect house, sometimes called also an insect hotel, is a structure from diverse natural or recycled materials that imitates natural nesting habitat for insects. Insect houses come in a variety of shapes and sizes, featuring different elements to suit the needs of specific insect species.

For example:

    • solitary bees prefer small holes in wood or plant stems (even bamboo)

    • beetles like cavities in rotting logs

    • ladybugs choose to hibernate among dry sticks covered with leaves or pine cones

    • lacewings seek dry grass, straw mixtures or layered cardboard


By combining diverse materials and placing them accordingly, you can achieve a balanced colony of beneficial insects. Once the insect house is discovered, insects will nest and reproduce inside as well as hibernate there during the winter, only to come out strong as soon as the spring starts. So, your garden’s health will be kept at check by these little helpers since the first warm days.
 

Where to place the insect house?

In similar fashion as we have our minimum requirements when it comes to a place to settle, insects have their own criteria of assessing where to nest too. The insect house positioning is the most important parameter for achieving striving colonies. In fact, if your insect house does not attract many insects, the number one reason will be its wrong position.

So, what do you have to do to ensure success?

The ideal spot should fulfill these basic criteria:

    • Close to vegetation and insect-friendly plants (especially flowering plants for pollinators)

    • Sheltered from the wind and rain

    • Secured well to not flip over easily

    • Located on a well-drained spot to not be soaked in water after heavy rain

    • Entrances exposed to the morning sun

    • But shaded from the midday heat (by tree branches, for example)


An insect house can either sit directly on the ground to draw in even crawling insects, or you can often see it attached to a stake, a wall or a tree. The latter positioning is safer for bee larvae, because ants like to feed on them. And it is easier for ants to find bee nests when the house is on the ground. So, when your goal is to support solitary bees, keep the house above the ground.

If you suspect after a week or two that the location you picked is not the best, you may carefully relocate the house. It is also recommended to do a major cleanup inside in the late spring when the majority of insects are out and about. You can replace the straw and bedding for a new one and sweep out fixed spaces to keep the house clean.
 

Insect houses for your garden

Now that you know all the benefits of having an insect house in your garden, it is time to look at some good quality products you can readily purchase for a reasonable price. Here are the top Greentumble’s choices of insect houses for the garden.
 

#1 NiteangeL Natural Insect Hotel Bee Bug House

 
Dimensions: 8.7 x 7.5 x 2.8 inches

Weight: 1.46 pounds

This insect house is very small, so it is good to buy it for a small garden, patio or if you are looking for a subtle accessory. The house is made entirely from untreated pine wood and is split into six sections to provide habitat for common beneficial insects:

  • Bamboo canes and holes drilled in the wood for solitary bees and ladybugs
  • The section with the vertical entrance specifically designed for butterflies
  • Dry wood shavings for ladybugs and lacewings
  • Pines attracting earwigs

 
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#2 Insect Palace Bee and Bug Home Insect Hotel

 
Dimensions: 8 x 5 x 4.3 inches

Weight: 6.53 pounds

This insect hotel is made from untreated pine wood. The roof is painted pine wood. It comes with five compartments:

  • Bamboo canes and soft wood with drilled holes to host solitary bees and ladybugs
  • Horizontal openings for lacewings
  • Wood shavings for ladybugs and lacewings

 
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#3 Gardirect Natural Insect Hotel, Bee and Butterfly House

 
Dimensions: 11.75 x 11 x 3 inches

Weight: 2.79 pounds

The largest of our insect houses. The product is handmade from natural pine wood with a cute pine wood design of the roof. The house is divided into five sections, providing shelter for butterflies, bees, ladybugs, earwigs and lacewings (as described above).

You can also find on a larger version of the house from the same manufacturer with a slightly different design and split into four major habitats. However, as the functionality goes, the sections attract the same composition of beneficial insects.
 
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#4 Mason Bee House

 
Dimensions: 9.5 x 5.5 x 0.8 inches

Weight: 2.95 pounds

The last house is meant to provide a safe place for bee larvae. It is made from natural bamboo, which should last outdoors at least for two years. The house is filled with different sized bamboo holes.

The manufacturer recommends hanging the house about three to six feet above ground in a spot that gets plenty of the morning sun.
 
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A few things to keep in mind

You can hide the insect house for winter in the shed or in the garage to protect it from the heavy snow, but never store it inside your house. Keep in mind that the main purpose of the house is to provide an insect nest for winter hibernation. That is why the house actually has to stay in cold, otherwise hibernating insects would be confused by the temperature change and would wake up.

Do not forget to put the house outside in the spring again to allow its inhabitants to start their gardening activity.

If you see a lot of bird activity around the insect house, cover the front with chicken wire. Some birds, such as woodpeckers, like to take advantage of this easy meal. The wire should prevent their direct access, while allowing insects to go out and in as they please.

This one should go without saying, but just to be sure: Do not use harsh chemicals to clean the insect house or paints that might harm insects. Also, beware of spraying pesticides or other harmful substances in the proximity of the insect house.

 


References

[1] https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/ece3.2374
[2] https://www.wur.nl/en/show/Biological-pest-control.htm
[3] https://www.saferbrand.com/articles/biological-pest-control
[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3967899/
[5] http://www.latimes.com/home/la-hm-bug-boxes-20150808-story.html