The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

Accent photo

Insect Hotels

Photo of Sandra Mason

Sandra Mason
State Master Gardener Coordinator

Bug, beast or brethren we all need food, water, shelter and a nice place to raise the kids. We may think all the outdoor wildlife just "makes do" with whatever they find. However with our present day need for clean many beneficial insects and pollinators find there is no room at the inn. The good news is they don't need high-rises or fancy accommodations. With found objects you can build an insect hotel that requires no advertising to attract the good guys to "rest a spell".

University of Illinois Extension Horticulture Educator Kelly Allsup recently shared some of her suggestions for helping insects feel right at home in your yard. "Insect hotels are a place for beneficial insects and pollinators to survive the winter chill and provide nesting sites during the spring and summer," states Allsup. It's a perfect way to encourage garden warriors.

Insect hotels can be built out of recycled materials, pallets, bricks, drain tiles and stacks of old logs. Try to imitate nature by creating rooms in the hotel using leaves, straw, mulch, cones and sticks.

Hotels are best placed in shady spots that receive morning sun and afternoon shade. Use stems of grasses, sunflowers, Joe-pye weed or elderberry to provide overwintering for 30% of the solitary, native bees. "These hotels can be as simple or elaborate as your creative brain can take you," shared Allsup.

ects overwinter in different ways so need diversely decorated rooms in the hotel. Not all insects flee to the south like the monarchs and painted ladies. Some insects endure the winter by going into diapause, a suspended state of development that employs protein antifreeze.

Hoverflies overwinter as pupae in leaf debris, pine cones or straw. Green lacewings prefer to pupate in rolled up corrugated paper. Both are pollinators as adults; however, their larvae are ferocious hunters of aphid pests.

Lady bug adults survive the winter under branches and in logs. Most lady bug adults sold in garden centers are harvested from the wild and rarely stay in the intended area. A better option is to entice native lady bugs to stay in the garden by offering hotels, habitat and food.

Butterflies and moths vary in their overwintering stage. Swallowtail butterflies and cercopia moths overwinter in the chrysalis (pupal) stage. Purplish coppers overwinter as eggs in debris and Baltimore checkerspot caterpillars spend their winter in leaf litter. Wooly bear caterpillars overwinter suspended in snow and ice and wake up when temperatures warm. Look for chrysalis in spring during garden clean-up. Don't inadvertently kill insects in their overwintering stage in a quest to be clean.

Parasitic wasps help us control garden pests. Wood blocks with holes can lure these beneficials. The most notable is the parasitic wasp that lays its eggs in tomato hornworm where white pupae can be seen in great numbers in late summer.

All bumble bees in a colony die out in winter except for newly produced queens. An upturned flower pot filled with straw or garden debris can easily be turned into her winter home, according to Allsup.

Mason bees overwinter in nesting cavities and spend at least 10 months going from egg to adult. Their hotels can be made out of bamboo sticks or hollow stemmed plants placed in old drainage tiles, cans or hollow logs in order to keep them dry or block of wood with drilled holes. The holes should be 5/16" round and at least six inches deep. Mason bees live four to six weeks and will be done laying eggs and pollinating by late spring. Inside the holes, the eggs are hatching, and the little larvae are consuming pollen. Adults emerge as fabulous pollinators.

Insect hotels are one stop on the highway of helping our pollinators. Also join our Pollinator Pocket Program. PH:217.333.7672.

View Article Archive >>