Ask most people if they like bugs and they’ll say they’re not a fan. We get annoyed with flies hovering over our barbeque, and screech at the top of our lungs when a spider dares to enter our home. And not many people love creepy-crawley beetles. However, insects are an integral part of our ecosystem and creating an insect-friendly garden is really important.
Let’s look at why insects are so important and what we can do to ensure our garden is a friendly place for all those creepy-crawlies and aggravating flying insects!
But are bugs and insects the same thing?
It’s complicated! In simple terms, all bugs are insects – but not all insects are bugs. In this article, therefore, we may use the terms interchangeably for ease.
Why are insects so important?
Of course, most of us know how important bees are as pollinators. And although some flying insects are indeed aggravating, who doesn’t love butterflies and dragonflies? Moths are pretty little creatures too, and so diverse, but we are not normally so keen when we find a hole in our favourite jumper! But almost all insects are vital to keeping plants healthy and our ecosystem thriving.
Pollination is a key part of this, as it assists in the reproduction of plants and flowers. While some plants can reproduce through self-pollination or seeds carried by the wind, insect pollination supports the majority. And it isn’t just bees and butterflies that pollinate: ants, moths, wasps, beetles, and flies also play a part in this essential task.
Some insects also play an important role in pest control. Adult hoverflies feed on nectar and pollen and their larvae are ferocious predators of aphids; ladybirds feed almost exclusively on aphids and plant-eating insects – but don’t confuse them with the similar-looking lily-beetle which will attack leaves, stems, buds and flowers or plants in the lily family! – parasitic wasps (that don’t sting) also kill caterpillars, sawflies, ants and aphids; adult lacewings and their larvae eat aphids and insect eggs; ground beetles love slugs and snails – so who wouldn’t want ground beetles in their garden?!
Worms are not insects, although most of us probably think of them as a type of bug, and they are absolutely invaluable for helping to create healthy soil.
Creating a vibrant ecosystem by encouraging beneficial predators and natural pollinators is the best way to help your garden reach its full potential. These insects are organic gardeners’ best friends, and if you don’t want to resort to nasty sprays, they should be yours, too!
So how do you create an insect-friendly garden?
Create an insect hotel
You can buy insect hotels, but they are also very easy to make. There are no hard and fast rules, and you can use old junk to give those bugs somewhere they would love to live! Making an insect hotel is a fun project to do with your kids.
Early autumn is an ideal time to make an insect hotel so the insects have a new home ready for winter hibernation.
The Eden Project offers a great DIY guide so why not get started next weekend?
More insect-friendly habitats
Build a log pile at the bottom of your garden to make woodlice and beetles feel at home. Bury the bottom third of the wood in the ground, as some beetles enjoy eating dead wood.
A compost heap is another easy way to encourage insects to stick around. This is especially attractive to bugs in winter, as when it’s colder they’ll have a safe, warm place to hibernate. Plus, of course, making your own compost is better than buying it.
Keep areas of grass long as insects are attracted to long grass as it retains humidity and soil moisture, making it ideal for insect larvae including caterpillars (which eventually transform into moths or butterflies) and various types of flies.
There are ten times as many species in long grass as there are on a mown lawn.
You can use a strimmer to create walkways in your lawn or to tidy up any wilder parts, but do take a few minutes before you start to ensure there are no creatures such as hedgehogs, toads, or blackbirds lurking in the long grass that could be hurt or killed. That is certainly something you would not want to do, especially if you have been working hard in creating an insect-friendly garden.
Choosing wildlife-friendly plants
Certain plants are more attractive to insects than others, so choose carefully as each insect has its own preferences. Lavender is perhaps one of the best-known plants for wildlife and the glorious smell of lavender combined with the buzz of happy bees moving from one flower to the next is one of the joys of summer.
But it isn’t only different types of plants but different species that need to be considered. For example, not all roses are bee-friendly. Bees typically like open roses; the golden rule of thumb is if you can see the yellow centre of the flower and it is not hidden away, then bees will probably love it and be able to use it for food. The same principle applies to other flowers such as daffodils and tulips.
As a couple of examples of specific favourites, hoverflies are drawn to yarrow, alyssum, dill, cosmos, mallow, poached egg plant, lemon balm, potentilla and marigold, while solitary bees favour lavender, fuchsia, heather, viburnum, marjoram, and catmint.
When buying plants, look for those with the RHS Plants for Pollinators label.
You can also use the RHS downloadable Plants for Pollinators lists to help with your choice of planting.
Of course, it isn’t just insects that we should be attracting to our garden. Most of us love birds, frogs and toads, and who wouldn’t love a hedgehog as a regular visitor? Consider the other ways of making your garden more wildlife-friendly such as adding a pond, and adding a tree or two. There are several types of wildlife-friendly trees that are suitable for even small gardens.