Britain is a nation of gardeners. There are a staggering 16million gardens in Britain covering about 2 million acres! Gardens are increasingly important refuges for invertebrates from the intensive land use in the wider countryside. Just imagine if we all gardened with invertebrates in mind…
A Little bit of everything
Variety is the spice of life! The more habitats you have in your garden, the greater diversity of invertebrates you will attract. There are so many types of invertebrate with such varied needs and most do well in small spaces, so every little bit of habitat helps.
Flowers, habitat piles (logs, rocks, leaves etc), ponds and boggy areas, flowering shrubs, trees, climbers, compost heaps and undisturbed wild areas are all great features to include in a bug-friendly garden. Even if you only have a tiny space, you can do great things for bugs, such as installing a window box or planters with herbs and flowers, putting up wall-mounted bug houses or even making a container pond.
Pollinator pit stops
Choose the right flowers for pollinators such as bees, butterflies and hoverflies. See our guide to plants for bees . When buying plants, watch which plants the pollinators are visiting!
Provide a continuous succession of flowers from at least spring to autumn, to feed pollinators throughout the year. Winter flowers such as Hellebore, Erica , Mahonia and snowdrops will feed pollinators that wake on sunny winter days.
Provide a mix of flower types to cater for all. Open, daisy-type flowers and umbels are great for hoverflies and many solitary bees, whilst some other bees, butterflies and moths prefer tubular flowers. Also plant night-scented flowers for moths, such as Jasmine and Honeysuckle.
Choose native flowers or cultivars of native species to benefit the most wild pollinators.
Plant flowering shrubs and trees e.g. Goat willow, hebe and fruit trees which can be a boon for pollinators too.
Plant a herb garden-Flowering herbs such as Marjoram, Rosemary and Fennel provide lots of nectar for pollinators and fresh seasoning for you!
Let ivy grow-The autumn flowers of mature ivy are a vital late nectar source for pollinators.
Avoid showy annual bedding plants which have little pollen or nectar and fancy double-petalled varieties which insects cannot access.
Food for free! Many wildflowers often considered weeds are brilliant for pollinatorsand cost nothing such as Dandelions and Deadnettles.
Snug bug homes
Many invertebrates from beetles to woodlice and spiders to centipedes live, breed or hibernate in dark refuges such as amongst or under logs, stones or dead vegetation. Providing habitat piles or artificial bug houses is a great way to boost the value of your garden for bugs.
Make a rock pile– unwanted bricks, concrete, clay pots and paving slabs work just as well.
Leave things to rot-Leaf piles and compost heaps are fantastic warm, damp environments for invertebrates and provide great free compost for your garden.
Wait until the spring clean– Leave hollow stems and seed heads as snug winter hideaways for small insects and spiders. Some seed heads can also be an attractive addition to a winter garden.
Include evergreen shrubs and climbers in your garden as leafy winter lairs for bugs.
Build a bug hotelor buy a Bug house– A great feature for a bug-friendly garden and a neat way to provide refuges even in a formal garden.
Provide pollinator breeding spots, such as a bee hotel for solitary bees, making a bumblebee nest box (shop-bought nest boxes rarely work. See details here) and making a Hoverfly lagoon.
Ponds and bogs
Create a pond – One of the best things you can do for wildlife. It will attract aquatic invertebrates, breeding dragonflies and many others to its margins.
Create a bog garden-a shallow wet area planted with marsh plants for wetland bugs.
Wild and weedy
A simple way to make your garden better for bugs is let nature take its course and leave things to go a little wild. This doesn’t mean your garden has to be messy, but a little leniency can go a long way.
Weeds are only plants growing in the wrong place-many bugs rely on common ‘weed’ species. If it’s not in the way, let it grow.
Leave your lawn a little longer, either completely or in corners and margins. Different invertebrates like different grass heights.
Let flowers grow in your lawn e.g. White clover and Buttercups are great for pollinators.
Let climbers such as ivy grow along your walls and fences to create extra shelter and food for invertebrates-The sight of Holly blue butterflies and ivy bees is worth it!
Let dead leaves lie as food for worms and other decomposers which are good for the soil.
Leave some undisturbed wild areas in your garden where wildlife can live in peace.
Though some invertebrates might be seen as pests, nature’s best pest controllers are other invertebrates such as spiders, predatory beetles and bugs and even wasps!
Put away the pesticides! Many pesticides are also harmful beneficial invertebrates such as pest predators and pollinators-if in doubt, don’t use them! Use organic control methods.
Build homes for pest predators– Aphid-munching ladybirds and lacewings like wild areas and shrubs and hibernate in dead stems and habitat piles. Habitat piles and compost heaps will also encourage slug predators such as Ground beetles, Devil’s coach horse and Centipedes.
Leave wasp nests alone if they’re not in your way. Worker wasps are excellent caterpillar and aphid hunters. A bee hotel will also encourage solitary wasps which won’t sting but are voracious predators of various pest insects.
Build barriers– a 60cm (2ft) high polythene barrier around carrots keeps out carrot fly, and slugs prefer not to cross copper rings.
Consider companion planting– Planting strongly-scented plants .e.g. Marigolds, Sage or Lavendar near prize vegetables or flowers can deter insect pests. Smelly nasturtiums also lure egg-laying butterflies away from cabbages.
If predators fail, use soapy water – a teaspoon of washing up liquid in a gallon of water is enough to wash off aphids, mealybugs and spider mites and won’t harm your plants.
Change your perspective– ‘pests’ are both food for other creatures and fascinating parts of the ecology in their own right. If they aren’t causing drastic or long term damage, leave them be.
Your gardening choices don’t just affect the bugs in your garden, they can impact those in the wider countryside too. Recycling and responsible sourcing is better for the planet and often for your pocket!
Go peat free– Peat is harvested unsustainably, damaging peat bog habitats which many of Britain’s rarest and most spectacular insects depend on for their survival.
Reduce your water use– Our running water comes from ground water and freshwater habitats. Over-abstraction has serious impacts on wetland and aquatic invertebrates, so reduce your tapwater use where possible. Get a water butt to harness rainwater and use ‘grey water’ from washing up to water plant pots. Water in the evenings when less of it will evaporate. Avoid using sprinklers. Make your water butt pollinator-friendly with the Buttacuprange.
Choose native plants and avoid invasive species such as Rhododendron, Spanish bluebell and some pond plants which could spread into the wild. See a list of invasives here.
Start a compost heap for your garden and kitchen waste- many invertebrates will move in and assist in the production of rich compost for free!
Leave out the limestone– ‘Water-worn stone’ sold for garden rockeries is quarried from limestone pavements, which are also an important habitat for specialist invertebrates.
Re-use pots, bricks, stones, wood, chippings and clippings to create bug habitats
Get involved in local plant swaps and seed swaps or start your own!
Vidoe courtesy of South Yare Wildlife Group
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