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DIY fall activities to help backyard wildlife

DIY fall activities to help backyard wildlife

Have you decorated your porch or lawn to celebrate the season? Once the holidays are over, don’t throw away those pumpkins, corn stalks or straw bales! We have the ultimate list of ideas to give your old fall décor a new purpose by transforming it into food and shelter for birds and other backyard critters this season.

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How to use an insect house

How to use an insect house

An insect house, sometimes referred to as an insect hotel, is an artificial nesting structure that provides shelter for beneficial insects like gentle solitary pollinators and predatory insects. The houses can be made up of several different types of materials and chambers like hollow bamboo tubes, pre-drilled wood blocks and shutter chambers or screen chambers that can be filled with pinecones, bark, twigs or dead leaves.

There are many benefits of installing an insect house in your garden and landscape. Becoming an insect house owner can be both a fun and rewarding experience as you take pride in helping support the pollinator population while improving the health and performance of your plants at the same time! Learn how to be a responsible host and get the most out of your insect house with these use and care tips.

Where to put an insect house

Place the insect house as close as possible to the area that you want the insects’ help pollinating and protecting. You may also place the house where you have already noticed the desired insects’ activity. A flower bed, garden, blossoming trees, bushes or stumps are good locations.

The insects prefer a warm, dry place protected from the wind and rain with exposure to plenty of sunlight. Morning sun is important; it gets the insects warmed up and out earlier each day and helps with an earlier hatch for the bees in the spring. Be sure that the front of the house is facing away from the typical incoming rain patterns in your area.

The house should be mounted at about eye level on a secure fence or arbor post to keep it from moving around too much when windy. It’s important that it be placed in a location where it will not be bumped or disturbed, so it’s recommended to avoid high traffic areas in the yard or garden.

beneficial insect house bee house

How to attract insects to an insect house

As long as the house is placed in the correct location, no additional steps are needed to jumpstart insect activity. However, the biggest factor that will determine insect house inhabitance is the surrounding environment. You may consider planting native flowering plants nearby that will naturally attract native pollinators. Offer a source of water, like a shallow dish of water and stones, to provide a safe place for them to stand and drink. If possible, create an area of open earth close by – some pollinators, like mason bees, need dirt and mud to pack into the tubes of a house to protect their eggs. It is not necessary to purchase eggs or cocoons to place into an insect house.

If your insect house comes with empty chambers, you can fill them with natural materials like pinecones, bark, straw, dead leaves, or twigs. Be sure to stay away from anything that may have been chemically treated, as this can prevent insects from using the house.

How long does it take for insects to use an insect house?

Depending on your location and annual weather patterns, insect house use typically begins in early spring with pollinator activity peaking in the warmer summer months. Some varieties of solitary pollinators will continue to use the houses through the fall.

When initially putting up a new insect house, be patient! Monitor the insect house for a few weeks for any activity and be aware of what insects are in your garden or landscape. Tubes packed with mud or leaves are definite indicators of inhabitants.

mudded tubes in a bee house mudded tubes in an insect house

Keep in mind that most insects will be out foraging and pollinating during the day and may not return to the house until nightfall. If after a few weeks of close monitoring you do not notice any wanted insect activity, the location may not be suitable. Take another look around your garden or yard and relocate your insect house to a different sunny location for another try.

For help identifying beneficial insects, check out our beneficial insect blog.

Insect house maintenance and care

Insect houses do not require cleaning or replacement parts. Instead, it is recommended to replace the entire house after a few seasons of use as the materials become worn and more susceptible to bacteria and disease. You may encounter some sources that suggest using a pipe cleaner to remove remnants of pollinator activity, however these insects are capable of excavating mudded tubes and blocks and will reuse the house again next season.

It’s a good idea to monitor any shutter chambers for unwanted insect activity (for example, paper wasps building a nest). The shutter chambers on all Nature’s Way Better Gardens beneficial insect houses can be opened for easy monitoring and early eradication of unwanted or aggressive insects.

The house can be left outside through the winter since this mimics the natural environment of these insects. If there is concern about exposure to extremely harsh elements or predation from birds, the entire house can be brought into an unheated garage. Be careful not to put the house in an environment that is too warm as this could cause an early or premature hatch.

 

Nature’s Way Better Gardens beneficial insect and bee houses come in many attractive styles and configurations. Find the right one for your yard and become an insect house hotelier this season!

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Why should I use an insect house?

Why should I use an insect house?

Some home gardeners are quick to panic at the site of a garden buzzing with bugs, but insects like pollinators and pest-eaters are in fact a sign of healthy plant activity and should be encouraged rather than eliminated. One of the easiest ways to attract beneficial insects to your garden and landscape is to install an insect house nearby.

An insect house is an artificial nesting structure that provides shelter for beneficial insects like solitary pollinators and predatory insects. The houses can be made up of several different types of materials and chambers like hollow tubes, pre-drilled wood blocks, shutter chambers or screen chambers. Solitary bees will create nests and lay their eggs in readymade cavities or soft wood that can be excavated like hollow bamboo shoots. Adult lacewings will find shelter in the mesh covered chambers or the shutter chamber and adult lady bugs will seek out a warm, comfortable spot like the shutter chambers in these houses to hibernate in during the winter months.

Insect house features:

bamboo tubes, wood blocks, screen chamber, shutter chamber

 

Attract these beneficial insects:

mason bee, leaf cutter bee, lacewings, ladybugs

 

Now that you know a little more about how insect houses are used, here are a few more reasons why you should consider installing one in your yard!

Improve garden performance

Power pollinators like leaf cutter bees and mason bees are capable of pollinating 10-20 times more flowers than a honeybee! These gentle helper bees are very docile and will only sting when trapped or pinched, so you don’t need to worry about bringing harmful, aggressive insects near your home. Attracting solitary pollinators to your garden and landscape will help your plants reach their full potential!

Predatory insects like lacewings and lady bugs keep your yard and garden healthy by feeding on harmful insect pests such as aphids, thrips, spider mites (especially red spider mites), whitefly, and other soft-bodied insects. The adult female lacewing lays roughly 300 eggs, and each developing larva can eat up to 10,000 insect pests in its lifetime! Both adult lady bugs and larva consume aphids and other pests to help keep your plants healthy.

beneficial insect house

Chemical-free pest management

No gardener wants to see unwanted pests make a negative impact on their plants. But before reaching for the pesticides, try using an insect house to introduce beneficial predatory insects to your garden to help control the pest population. Insect houses are a great natural option in integrated pest management, a process used to control pest populations while minimizing the impacts on people and the surrounding environment.

Support the native bee population

You may have heard about the sharp decline in the honeybee population, but in the last 100 years, 50% of Midwestern native bee species have disappeared from their habitats. Most wild plants and many of the crops we consume are dependent on insect pollination, meaning native bees are an essential part of our ecosystems that we should take steps to protect. Homeowners can do their part by using a beneficial insect house to provide a safe environment for pollinator reproduction.

To learn more about how you can support pollinators, visit pollinator.org.

Learning opportunity

Help children learn about the benefits of gentle native bees and power pollinators as you monitor their activity together with an insect house! Help identify insect activity by observing the materials they use and studying their behavior as they inhabit the house.

mudded tubes of an insect house mason bee using insect house

(Left) Mudded tubes indicate insect activity

(Right) Mason bee packing mud to seal egg inside tube

Plus, it's fun!

Being an insect house owner can be both a fun and rewarding experience as you watch them take up residence in the house! You can take pride in knowing that you’re helping to support the pollinator population while improving the health and performance of your plants at the same time.

 

Nature’s Way Better Gardens beneficial insect and bee houses come in many attractive styles and configurations. Find the right one for your yard and become an insect house owner this season!

Read more →