Guide written by:
John, Passionate gardener, Cambridge
An insect hotel is an artificial shelter designed to provide a safe home to a range of beneficial insects over the winter. They can be made up of a range of different materials such as reed stems to bark, straw, hollow bricks and logs. Read on to find out more about the various 'rooms' that make up an insect hotel!
- Insect type
What is an insect hotel?
Insect hotels are little cabin-like structures that are open at the front to allow insects to come and go. Measuring just 20 to 30 cm in width, these little huts are split into different compartments each of which contains a different type of insect shelter. They come in all sizes and a range of designs.
The frame of the insect hotel must be made of weather-resistant untreated wood. In this part of the world, commonly used types of wood include larch, Douglas fir and chestnut. Insect hotels must be fitted with a watertight roof.
You can, of course, purchase a ready-made structure but it is also very easy to make your own insect shelter!
Nesting boxes and feeders
Why set up an insect hotel?
In recent times, increasing numbers of home gardeners have been shunning pesticides and landscaped gardens in favour of more wildlife friendly spaces. This more natural approach to gardening has emphasised the utility of certain insects and the importance of making their lives a bit easier. As a result, insect shelters seem to be popping up everywhere from public parks to private gardens.
Setting up an insect hotel is an excellent way to offer shelter to beneficial insects, which is the label given to insects that naturally protect your garden from pests. This helps you to avoid the use of any chemicals or other products.
By offering these insects a shelter and food source, you can set up and maintain a little ecosystem of bugs. In turn, the insects will help to control any pests threatening your crops. Insect hotels are mainly used over the winter as a place for insects to wait out poor weather conditions and breed.
As such, you'll have a range of desirable insects already in place to help you tackle pests when the spring rolls around. In addition to these purely practical advantages, insect hotels can also be used as educational tools. Easy to set up, these shelters offer a fun way to teach kids about biodiversity. What's more, many bug hotels can be an attractive addition to a garden.
Where to set up an insect hotel
Place your insect hotel in a corner set apart from the rest of your garden to give the residents a bit of peace. Set it up so that it faces south-east or south and make sure that it isn't exposed to wind. If possible, raise the structure slightly to keep it safe from soil humidity.
That said, it is absolutely possible to set up a little shelter beneath the insect hotel at ground level. Simply pile up some bark, cut logs or heavy stones. Ground dwelling creatures, such as ground beetles, will love this type of environment.
How to feed your insects
Attracting insects to your shelter and encouraging them to stay is only feasible if they can find a food source. This means that you will have to welcome some pests around the insect hotel for the insects to prey on. In turn, this may mean you have to sacrifice a some of your crops or plants.
Some insects do not help in pest control but can be useful in other ways. For example, you may encourage pollinators, such as bumblebees and solitary bees, to visit your garden. If you want to attract these types of insects, you'll need flowering plants. Ornamental plants aren't always the best option as they often don't contain a lot of nectar.
Leaving a few wild plants to flower around the hotel insects is essential to the survival of these foraging insects.
Insect hotel materials
The types of insects likely to set up home in this type of shelter vary widely and each has its own preferences in terms of material!
You will therefore need to offer a range of shelters to match different tastes. A hotel insect is a bit like a little guest house where each inhabitant can choose their own 'room' to live out the winter.
The materials used to make up these shelters are often reclaimed materials that are naturally found around the garden such as hollow stems, bark, straw or logs drilled with holes.
Hollow stems measuring approx. 5 mm in diameter (reeds, wild carrots, grass, etc.).
Solitary bees and wasps
Pithy stems (elderberry, raspberry, blackberries, butterfly bush, etc.).
Upside-down terracotta pots containing straw or hay
Horizontal hardwood logs drilled with various size holes (3 to 9 mm)
Mason bees and other types of solitary bees or wasps
Piled-up wooden planks or tiles, dried leaves
Wood fibre, straw
Piles of pine needles (held in place by mesh)
Various insects: ladybirds, lacewings, ground beetles, etc.
Not every compartment of an insect hotel will be occupied – far from it, in fact. In the countryside, insects have a wide range of shelters to choose from including piles of wood, large flat stones or gaps in old walls. In the city, on the other hand, insect hotels can be really useful as insects have a smaller selection of natural shelters to choose from.
Some materials should be replaced more often than others; for example, straw should be renewed every year, pine needles every give years, and so on. Logs that tend to split as they dry out should also be changed regularly.
Guide written by:
John, Passionate gardener, Cambridge, 57 guides
When I was young, I was already working in the family garden. Perhaps that is where my interest in plants and gardening came from. So, it was logical for me to study both plant biology and agronomy. At the request of various publishers I have, over twenty-five years, written many books on the subject of plants and mushrooms (a subject that is close to my heart).They were mostly identification guides at first, but shortly after they were about gardening, thus renewing the first passion of my childhood. I have also regularly collaborated with several magazines specializing in the field of gardening or more generally in nature. There is no gardener without a garden, I have cultivated mine in a small corner of Cambridge for the last thirty years and this is where I put into practice the methods of cultivation that will I advise you in as well.