How to Attract Pollinators to Your Garden
Pollination is essential for the survival of many things, including around one third of crop production. Climate change is contributing to the rapid decline of pollinators, such as bees, wasps and beetles, which is having a devastating effect on the planet and the 7.9 billion people and thousands of unique species who call it home.
It’s time to step up. What can we do to attract these pollinators to our gardens and outdoor spaces this summer, giving them a helping hand with the important role they play? Read on for advice, ideas and inspiration…
How to Attract Pollinators to Your Garden
- Consider Weeding Less
Put that hoe down! Many plants which we consider pesky weeds, are actually a pollinator’s dream. Dandelions and lawn clover, for example, provide vital pollen for many species of bee. Some households even decide to dedicate a certain area of their garden to let nature roam free; letting weeds grow, undisturbed by the gardener’s vigilance. You don’t have to tell us twice…
Grow Plants and Flowers which Pollinators Love
Let us throw some big hitters for summer out there – we’re talking foxgloves, lavender and sunflowers, which are going to attract no end of pollinators, all season long. Plants like fennel and dill are also good to have in your garden, as butterfly larvae feed on them. Not only will your garden be a blaze of colour, but those pollinators are going to love you for it!
Avoid Using Pesticides and Insecticides
We get it. It can be very frustrating when a plant, shrub or tree you’ve either grown yourself, or spent good money on, falls victim to pests. Rather than using traditional, chemical-filled pesticides or insecticides, which are detrimental to wildlife and soil, you could consider a more natural solution. Having plants which attract ‘good bugs’ to your garden – i.e., the creatures whose diet includes the pests and larvae that are feeding on your plants, is the perfect way to combat the problem and take care of the planet at the same time.
Lacewings dine on aphids, mites and other small insects. Dandelions, cosmos, coriander and dill are examples of plants which attract lacewings. Consider planting them close to any plants you have pest problems with, for a chemical-free remedy!
Make a Bee Hotel
Having a bee-safe structure, or ‘bee hotel’ as they’re fondly known, is a great way to attract solitary species of bee to your garden. Where honeybees typically live in hives, solitary bee species prefer nesting in cavities, where they can breed and lay their eggs. Remember to position your bee hotel in a full sun position if possible.
A few months ago, Traidcraft’s very own Jude shared some photos with us of a bee hotel she has in her garden. She explained it was made by her Dad, David. We loved it so much, we decided to pick David’s brains on exactly how and why he made it.
"You can buy a bee hotel from a garden centre or other outlet. But it is much more fun, creative and satisfying to make your own – especially if you improvise, using left-over materials or whatever you find or happen to have
available. This will give your bee hotel a homely, patchwork feel, and will make it uniquely yours. Remember that the bees will not mind how fancy or professional it looks.”
"For hibernation and fertilising, the solitary bee likes safe little cavities – ideally small round holes, between 2 - 10mm in diameter and 3cm deep, in pieces of wood. An individual bee will lay two or three eggs in each hole, seal them in with wax, and leave them until the babies can dig their way out and take flight. If your bee hotel also includes other materials such as twigs, pieces of bark and pinecones, it will also provide a habitat for bugs, insects, ladybirds, caterpillars, etc. They can all live happily together under one roof."
How to Make a Bee Hotel
The shape and size of the box doesn't really matter. Something about the size of a shoe box would be ideal, though it only needs to be 8 - 10cm deep. Alternatively, make your own box out of left-over pieces of timber (see how to further on).
An easy way to fill your bee hotel is to pack it with a variety of pieces of wood, into which you have drilled holes about 4 – 6cm deep, and varying between 2 - 10cm in diameter. The holes can be scattered randomly; they don't need to be neat and tidy.
The wood can be rectangular blocks or sections of thin logs the same length as the depth of your box. An excellent addition can be hollow lengths of bamboo cane, either bound together in bunches or used to fill gaps between wooden pieces. To widen the range of visitors who will use your hotel, you might like to divide the box into several compartments, each with a different filling. These fillings can be things found around your garden, work shed or picked up on a woodland walk: pinecones, small sticks, twigs, pieces of bark, bunches of lavender, dried heather or grasses, for example.
Whatever fillings you decide on, make sure they are stuffed tightly in: small creatures like cosy places. To hold the fillings in place, you could use a piece of mesh such as chicken-wire stapled to the front.
Once it’s made, hang your bee hotel on a flat wall, preferably roughly south-facing and at least a metre from the ground, and just leave it there! Don't expect to see lots of comings and goings: the inhabitants are there for long stays, possibly right through winter. But you can be sure that they will appreciate your hospitality,
and that your whole garden will benefit.
How to Make Your Own Box for Your Bee Hotel
You will need some pieces of timber, some wood glue and some simple woodworking tools (saw, screwdriver and screws, drill and drill bits), and maybe a bit of mesh such as chicken-wire to hold in the filling.
The box can be whatever shape and size you choose. It doesn't need to be very big. A rectangular frame about 30cm high by 20 cm wide would be fine. It should be somewhere between about 7 and 12 cm deep. To allow rain to run off it, and to make it look like a little house, you might want to give it a sloping roof like a gable-end.
To make such a box, and assuming it's 8cm deep, you'll need timber between 10 and 20 mm thick as follows:
• 2 pieces 30 cm x 8 cm for the sides;
• 2 pieces 20 cm x 8 cm for the top and bottom;
• 2 pieces about 17 cm x 8 cm for the sloping roof.
The sides, top and bottom will be square-ended. The roof pieces will need 45-degree slanting ends, at least where they meet at the top.
The box will be open at the front. Giving it a back is not essential as it will hang against a wall, but a back panel would strengthen the structure and help to retain the filling neatly. The back would consist of one piece of thin wood (e.g. 6mm marine plywood) the same dimensions as the box.
Fix the top, bottom and sides together with wood glue, and clamp them together for 24 hours while the glue dries and hardens. (If you don't have suitable clamps, just lie your glued frame on a flat surface and put a weight on top of it. That will be quite stable if the components are square at the ends). Strengthen the joints with screws, remembering to drill pilot-holes for the screws first; otherwise the wood will split. This can be done before or after glueing; David prefers to drill the holes before glueing, then use the screws to pull the glued components together.
If you're adding a back-panel, just wait until the glue has set, and then cut the panel to size and pin or screw it to the box frame. If you're adding a pointed roof, glue and screw its two parts together. When the glue has hardened, drill through the roof and screw it to the frame. The screws may be visible where they pass through from roof to frame. The bees won't mind that.
Of course, if you can't make a bee hotel as described (or don’t want to) then you could simply take a piece of wood – either a lump of timber or a section cut from a tree - and drill a lot of holes in it. Put it in a suitable place and leave it there, the bees will find it.
Well, if you're anything like us you'll be truly inspired by David's piece, and will be making your own bee hotels in no time. We hope you found this feature useful, and even if you make one small change to your garden or outside space, you can be sure that the pollinators will love you for it, and in turn so will our planet.