Keep Your Pollinators Warm this Winter with an Insect Hotel

insect-hotel

“InsectHouseMonaco” by Gareth E Kegg. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Looking for a cool gardening project to occupy your idle time this winter? Look no further.

Insect hotels are a great winter project, and they pay big dividends by increasing the likelihood that your garden will be graced by lots of pollinators and beneficial insects next season and for years to come. They also have lots of fringe benefits…

You get to provide a nice, safe, and cozy home for solitary bees and their insect buddies. We hear a lot about honey bees, but there are over 4,000 species of wild, native bees in North America alone. A well-designed hotel is a safe haven for some of your local bees, and it can help them to thrive in your area. In addition to bees, you can build rooms for ladybugs, millipedes, wasps, beetles, spiders… the more the merrier.

With a hotel in or near your garden, you can increase the biodiversity of your garden; and we all know by now that diversity is a key component of healthy soil and healthy ecosystems.

Perhaps the nicest feature of insect hotels is that they provide a great outlet for upcycling materials that would otherwise end up in the landfill. Got an old wooden pallet laying around? Some surplus bricks? A pile of rocks that you’ve gathered from the lawn and garden? Some old fence posts? This is a great way to tidy up your spare bits and pieces, and put them to good use.

Insect Hotel Tips and Pointers

• Put your hotel in a sunny spot. It’s good if you can face it to the south for full exposure – warmth is important for overwintering bugs, and it’s essential for developing larvae. Nobody likes a freezing room – so err on the side of caution and arrange your hotel in the sunniest spot available.

• Bugs need water, just like you do. Incorporate a water source into your hotel, or keep one nearby. A plant saucer, a small cache pot, or anything else that will hold a little water should work just fine.

• Be mindful not to expose your guests to toxic chemicals. Use untreated, natural materials as much as possible. Untreated wood will warp, twist, and break down faster. But if you want to provide a safe home, it’s better to avoid chemicals and just accept that you’ll need to replace some pieces or rebuild altogether every few years or so.

• Be creative! Bamboo and drilled wood are the standards, but there are probably a hundred different materials right outside your door that would work great. In addition to scrap building materials, look for natural elements like pine cones and needles, fallen limbs and twigs, tree bark, straw, etc. If you have trees with thick, waxy leaves that don’t break down well in the compost – like magnolias, live oaks, ligustrums, or hollies – those might make good stuffing for any empty spaces.

I compiled a few videos that show different design ideas. As you’ll see, you can feel free to let your imagination roam, and the sky’s the limit. I think it would be fun to regroup in the spring and see all the different designs everyone has dreamed up. Maybe we can come up with a prize for the best design…

Insect Hotel Videos

A Good Overview, with Instructions for 2 Simple Hotels

This video shows a whole slew of different design ideas, and that’s the part I really liked. The second half of the video walks you through step-by-step instructions to build two small hanging hotels that look something like bird houses. Nice and neat…

Posh Style for Your Discerning Bugs

These hotels are the highest in modern insect style. For those of you who keep an immaculate landscape, these are something you can do without messing up your view. This style of hotel probably won’t draw any unwanted attention from your H.O.A. or nosy neighbors.

Back when I did lots of landscape design, one of the most common requests I got was for creative screens to block the view of utility boxes, air conditioners, pool pumps, and exposed pipes. I think that a clean looking insect hotel like this one could make a great screen. If you situated this right in front of your utility box, and planted the area with a small, tidy pollinator garden – you could turn that ugly box into a win-win for you and your neighborhood insects.

The Insect Economy Inn

If you’re less concerned with style, but more interested in practical economy – this is for you. Reused materials and quick assembly make this bug hotel all about functionality. I think this style of design would actually draw more insects than some of the fancier designs I’ve seen. I’m not too sure about the planting on top… I might have done that a little differently.

A Rustic Bug Cabin

I really like this one. Reclaimed materials and solid construction, for a natural rustic look. I love how these folks were so creative and used many different materials to make homes for lots of different insects. And other than screws and cinder blocks, they probably didn’t need to spend a dime.

Start looking around at the materials you have available – you might find that you already have everything you need to build a nice insect hotel. Hopefully, this will give you a way to do a productive garden project or two while you wait out the winter.

If we have a lot of interest, we might organize a [Grow] Network Insect Hotel Contest and arrange some prizes for the best designs. Let us know if you’re interested using the comments below!

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Michael Ford


Contributor

Michael has been the resident editor at The [Grow] Network since January 2015. Michael grew up in St. Louis, where he became a lover of nature - hiking and fishing his way through the Ozark hills in Missouri. He attended Baylor University in Waco, TX, and he currently lives in Austin. Michael has background experience in small-scale farming, commercial growing, vegetable gardening, landscaping, marketing, and software development. He received his Permaculture Design Certification from the Austin Permaculture Guild in 2013.


12 Comments
  • What a great idea! Recycle scraps and help out a few critters at the same time. I think a contest would be great – gardeners are such creative people in general anyway.

  • Eva

    We have old woodpiles on our property which we use for camp fires. I’m sure they’re full of bugs.

  • Teri Beri

    Love these ideas, but after being brutally attacked by hornets in a ground nest in my front yard, I am very hesitant. If my spouse had not been home when the attack occurred, I would have needed to call 911 to dispatch an ambulance. The pain and swelling was beyond belief! Any chance you know if these bug hotels would appeal to potentially dangerous hornets? Sting me one time (or in my case over 40 times), shame on me…

    • Profile photo of Michael Ford

      Hi Teri – What a terrible experience! I can’t even imagine. To be honest, I don’t see any reason why hornets wouldn’t nest in one of the bigger hotels. With the smaller hotels – I don’t think there would be room for them. Either way – keep an eye out for those hornets!

  • Bonnie

    Great tutorials. Can you use pvc pipe as round tubes if no bamboo is available? Love this site. Thank you

    • Profile photo of Michael Ford

      Hi Bonnie – If you search for info on PVC toxicity, nobody has anything good to say about it. I’m not sure if it would harm the bees or not – but I’d stick to natural materials as much as possible. Thanks!

  • What a fascinating project! The kids will love this one. We currently have a stack of wood that seems to attract all kinds of cool insects. This project would be great on a smaller scale and one the kids would love to build.

  • Nannette

    Has anyone had problems with black widows taking residence in these? I love the idea but worry about this since I live in a warmer climate (zone 8b).

  • Gerrie Randall

    Love the Bee house, had planned to make one using Bull Rushes (got the idea from a seed catalogue selling them made with bamboo). How do I encourage the pollinating bees to move in?
    Thanks,

    Gerrie

  • Kevin

    I shop at our local ALDI grocery store weekly here in CT. Every week they temporarily add some new items. In mid-April they offered a really attractive & moderately sized wild bee & insect hotel. It was less than $10 so I grabbed one & set it up in the backyard. The next morning it already had about 35% occupancy! A nice, easy, fast alternative to building one.

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