Insects abound in healthy gardens. They are necessary to keep ecosystems working as they pollinate plants, provide food for birds and other animals, and increase the overall biodiversity of our gardens. Urban and suburban gardens tend to be so focused on neatness and simplicity that an insect hotel provides a fun way to attract and shelter insects while also creating a sculptural element that is appealing and beneficial as well. Insect hotels provide a place to breed, and to stay and rest. They also provide hibernation habitats. They are beneficial to domestic honeybees, bumblebees, solitary bees as well as moths, wasps, beetles, lacewings, hover-flies, ladybirds, and earwigs (many of these eat lice and mites that damage plants).
Insect hotels are made primarily with recycled materials that can easily be found around the house and garden. Be creative as you consider old wood, drilled wood blocks, bundled twigs, bamboo canes, cones, hollow stems, bark, seed pods, straw, hay, cut grasses, paper, old leaves, stones, shells, clay pots, clay pipes, bricks, broken pottery, etc. Avoid using metal or chemically treated wood.
A structural base with sides and frame for the hotel is needed. Using bricks as the building block is quite simple. Once your base is set, then the sides can go up and your materials should be added with the heaviest going on the lowest level. Prior to construction, pre-roll the paper and leaves, cut hollow reeds, twigs and bamboo so that construction can move along without distraction. Create many small holes of different sizes in the untreated wood. Native bees like the tiny holes as a place to lay their eggs, add pollen and nectar on top and then they will add clay for protection. Cavities are important for the insects to crawl on, fly into or to provide a resting place.
Position the hotel where it will get sun to keep it warm under the eve of the house or build the hotel so it has a reliable roof so it will not get wet during winter. Slate is a good roofing material. Dry stonewalls also act as successful insect hotels and often have the added benefit of providing habitat for chipmunks, frogs, toads, and salamanders. These are not built to be highly specific for certain insects but rather as a way to imaginatively increase the heterogeneity of your space.
Insect hotels tend to be quiet places, so don’t expect Grand Central Station type activity but do expect some pleasant surprises. This kind of habitat adds a rich natural feature that supports conservation. At the same time you have created garden art. A large part of the fun is to design the hotel so it is pleasing to the eye and placed where it can be enjoyed as insects discover its existence!
These insect hotels were made by Dr. Michael L. Smith: ichthyologist, beekeeper, and gardener.
This is a simple insect hotel built with bricks – great for a first time effort. The spaces are filled with bamboo, twigs, and oyster shells.
This more complex insect hotel provides a lovely sculptural element set on a hillside garden. The honeycomb design was created with brick pipe and slate is used as the base and sides.
Here the design blends wood and slate set on a stone base and incorporates oyster shells, bark, twigs, and stones.
This log has been part of an insect hotel. Look carefully and you will notice the very small holes that have been filled in with mud by native bees; these non-stinging bees are good pollinators. An egg is laid in the cavity and then the bee adds pollen and nectar to provide food. Then leaf parts and mud are added to the top.