On warm, sunny days insects are always busy in our garden. From Hoverflies to Ladybirds, butterflies and Hummingbird Hawk Moths, I could watch them for hours as they fly from flower to flower or, as in the case of Ladybirds, patrol the new growth tips on shrubs and vegetables looking for their favourite food – aphids.
Many insects are beneficial to gardeners, either by pollinating the flowers of food crops or as part of the food chain, predating on garden pests or as food for birds and small animals, which in turn eat pests such as slugs, snails, caterpillars and greenfly.
By planting their favourite food plants, they will arrive in numbers but what about the winter when the weather changes and there is little about for them to eat?
Luckily, most insects will hibernate through the colder months and re-emerge in spring to carry on their good work. By giving them winter lodgings, gardeners will be off to a head start on the pest control and pollination front in the following year.
If you have room in a quiet corner of your garden, stone and log piles are a cheap way to give shelter to a huge variety of creatures – have you ever peeled back a rotting layer of bark and noticed the number of insects scuttling away? Or lifted a stone to reveal a damp layer of earth – again with a wealth of insect life? Toads, frogs and small mammals will also use these places to shelter through the winter and a rotting pile of wood is a great larder for birds as they rummage for food through the lean months.
Another easy way to create winter lodgings for insects is to build a ‘bug hotel’ from an empty plastic water or fizzy drink bottle with a top. This is a great project for children on a wet day during the school holidays!
Start by collecting some dry, hollow stemmed sticks from the garden or use hollow bamboo canes. Cut the base from the plastic bottle and push some fine wire through the side to act as a hanger. Cut the hollow stems to length and place them in a bundle in the bottomless bottle. Remember to leave the top on the bottle so that the sticks or bamboo canes stay dry.
Site your bug hotel in a shady spot, sheltered from cold winds and facing away from prevailing winds so that winter rain is not driven into the stems – the lodgers will need somewhere dry to hibernate and may die if their home is flooded or becomes damp.
The lack of bees has been a worrying environmental issue for some time and we should do whatever we can to encourage these industrious insects to our gardens. Not all bees live in swarms – many are solitary but still play an important part in pollinating crops and flowers. Some live in holes in wood and some in burrows in the ground but by planting their favourite food plants we can help them. It’s important to provide suitable flowering plants through the year as many will emerge in winter or early spring, stirred by warm weather. The Royal Horticultural Society has a list of plants suitable for pollinators on its website and many are available for sale at Notcutts. Fatsia japonica, Sarcococca and Clematis cirrhosa are three such plants that spring to mind for the winter months but we can also help by erecting a solitary bee hive or simply drilling holes in logs to encourage them to take up residence.
Helping beneficial insects out doesn’t have to be expensive – even the smallest of projects can make a huge difference – so this autumn why not get building or planting with wildlife in mind?