Attracting beneficial insects

Globe Thistle, Echinops, heat-tolerant plants, attracting beneficial insectsWhen I talk about attracting insects to the garden, this is a common reaction: “Why would I do that?! I don’t want more insects in my garden!” But attracting beneficial insects, as well as pollinators, is exactly what we need to do to keep damaging insects in check and create a balanced ecosystem within our gardens.

When I think of beneficial insects and pollinators, what comes to mind are beetles, ladybugs, parasitic wasps, lacewings, praying mantises, spiders and solitary bees like mason bees.

You were probably doing OK with the list until I mentioned spiders, right? We humans seem to have an innate fear of arachnids. While I agree they are kind of creepy critters, spiders have big appetites for all types of problem insects in our gardens. So for that very reason, I’m more than happy to put out the welcome mat for them.

So how to we draw in the beneficials and pollinators?

attracting beneficial insects

Adult ladybugs

The most important thing all of us need to do is to lose the pesticides! While chemicals are a quick and easy product to use, they indiscriminately kill off both the problem insects and beneficials alike. As a result, our garden ecosystems are out of balance.

For example, if you kill off the ladybugs, who’s going to eat all of those pesky aphids? If you kill off the bees, who will pollinate your squash plants and apple blossoms?

When folks hear that I garden organically, I’m often asked, “Then what do you do with all of the bugs that are eating your garden?”

The simple answer is that I have very little insect problems because I’ve helped establish a balance of beneficial and damaging insects by completely avoiding pesticides.

So that’s step #1. No more chemicals, folks! It will save you money, keep you away from the health hazards of using them, and — most importantly — help the environment.

Step #2 is to attract birds. A large percentage of them are insectivores so they do a great job of keeping problem insects at a manageable level. If you’re interested in attracting birds for this reason, along with wanting to watch and enjoy them in your own garden, please read my article on attracting birds. It’s part of my “Birds in the Garden” guide, which includes profiles of the birds I see in my garden and identifies which ones are insectivores.

Step #3, in my humble opinion, is the most fun one: build an insect hotel.

In early 2015, my husband, Bill, and I built one in our garden after seeing them in some botanical gardens in both the U.S. and abroad. Here’s the concept behind them:

They provide shelter and nesting materials for insects to hibernate and/or raise a brood. An insect hotel can be any size, style or shape you want, provided it is sheltered from the weather with a roof and is oriented facing south for maximum light and warmth.

The great news is that you can gather natural materials to fill an insect hotel with, so they’re very inexpensive to put together:

  • Logs or wood blocks with 1/4” to 5/16” holes drilled into them
  • Dry leaves and branches
  • Masonry bricks containing holes
  • Mason bee tubes
  • Bamboo
  • Clay pots
  • Driftwood
  • Pine cones
  • Roofing tiles
  • Rolled-up paper or cardboard
  • Wood scraps
  • Reeds or straw
  • Loose tree bark

Here is a video, showing how we put our insect hotel together. Remember that you can build yours any old way, but this will give you some ideas:

I have to tell you, we had so much fun putting it together and then watching the insect activity in and around it! Here’s a video showing mason bees coming and going:

I do hope you’ll consider building your own insect hotel. It’s a wonderful project to involve kids in, so they will gain a better understanding of the natural world… and won’t look upon insects as something to squish! Insects are vital to the health of our gardens and the world around us.