Gardening for insects

A photograph of the Two-spot ladybird _Adalia bipunctata_

The two-spot ladybird (Adalia bipunctata) is a welcome visitor to the garden as an adult can eat up to fifty aphids a day.

It has been estimated that private gardens in Britain cover more than 1,000,000 acres. This is an area larger than any one of Britain's National Parks and it represents a hugely important, and often under utilised, resource for wildlife.

Many people feed the birds or even put out food for hedgehogs but often insects and other invertebrates are overlooked. Invertebrates are a vital part of the ecosystem and many other animals rely on invertebrates as a source of food, of course, we rely on insects to pollinate our crops.

Due to their size, a diverse range of different species of insects and other invertebrates can be supported by even the smallest garden (or window box). You also don't need to let your garden grow into an unkempt wilderness to be of benefit to insects and other wildlife.

10 ways to make your garden more attractive to insects

  1. Dig a pond

    Possibly the single most important addition to your garden should be a pond. A pond provides a wide range of habitats and will be quickly colonised by dragonflies, damselflies, pond skaters, back swimmers, water beetles and aquatic larvae of many other insects. The pond should have shallow sloping sides and a minimum depth of 60cm at its deepest point. Avoid putting fish in your pond if possible as these will eat the insects and other small creatures in the pond.
  2. Stop using chemicals

    Many pesticides and insecticides are indiscriminate and however carefully you use them they will kill a wide range of insects and not just the few you are targeting. Even if the pesticides do not kill an insect that comes into direct contact with it, the pesticide can reach lethal levels for other animals (other invertebrates or vertebrate predators such as birds and hedgehogs) as they feed on 'contaminated' prey.
  3. Plant native plants

    Our native flora and fauna evolved together and have developed close associations. For example, the caterpillars of some species of butterfly will only feed on one species of plant. Native plants (including trees) support a wider range of other species than many exotic plants so, where possible, plant native plants.
  4. Create a range of habitats

    Try to create a range of different habitats in you garden. If you're not lucky enough to have a range of established habitats in your garden already you can create artificial ones, for example: create a pond, sow native flower seeds or even leave a bare patch of earth in a sunny location for solitary, mining bees.
  5. Set aside an area

    Leave an area (however small) untouched, the long grass will provide a refuge for many insects and other small creatures.
  6. Consider making a 'nectar bar'

    Include plants that are rich in nectar in your planting schemes. For example Buddleia is well known for attracting nectar feeding insects such as butterflies and hoverflies throughout the summer. In the Autumn Ivy (Hedera helix) is an excellent source of nectar.
  7. Compost your waste

    Not only does this reduce the amount of waste in your domestic rubbish and provide you with compost for your garden, the compost heap will also be a haven for insects and other wildlife. Your compost bin can be a simple wooden box 1m³ made from an old wooden pallet or packing crate.
  8. Dead heading

    Leave dead heading until late spring to provide overwintering sites for insects and other invertebrates.
  9. Be more tolerant

    Many insects will chew our plants or nibble on our fruit but if you want them to be regular visitors to your garden, then it's better to accept the odd eaten leaf and damaged fruit. You may even decide to plant sacrificial plants purely to provide food for insects.
  10. Take time to enjoy your garden and find out more about its inhabitants

    It's difficult to appreciate the range of insects in your garden if you can't identify them. Being able to tell the difference between bees and their hoverfly mimics or recognising the different species of butterfly will result in you deriving more enjoyment from your garden. This Web site contains information on how to identify insects but also being a member of the AES will allow you to really appreciate invertebrates in your garden.