How to create
Want to attract more beneficial insects to your garden? We share some tips, and suggest six insect-friendly plants to try
It's well known that bees are vital for pollinating many of our crops. Around a third of the food we eat – strawberries, apples and tomatoes for example – is pollinated by bees.
Most of us are familiar with honey bees and bumblebees, but there are also more than 200 species of solitary bee – and they play an equally important role in pollinating flowers, fruit and vegetables.
But bees are not the only beneficial insects. Butterflies, moths, hoverflies and wasps are also useful pollinators, while other insects, such as lacewings and ladybirds, control pests.
The British bee population has declined dramatically within the last decade, and many species of butterfly are struggling too.
The key challenges faced by pollinators are loss of habitat, lack of food, and damage caused by the use of chemicals. Intensive agriculture – with the loss of flower-rich meadows and hedgerows, and use of pesticides and herbicides – is a major contributor.
So insects need our help – and the good news is that it's quite easy to create insect-friendly spaces in our gardens.
Not being too tidy is a good start. The hollow stems of dead plants provide homes for hibernating insects, such as lacewings and ladybirds – so wait until spring before pruning and strimming.
If possible, avoid cutting back ivy – in autumn the flowers provide vital late-season nectar for bees, butterflies and hoverflies, when few other sources of food are available. And over-wintering butterflies often hunker down in the deep, protective foliage that ivy offers.
Leaving a patch of uncut grass in your garden can help too. Or leave strips around the edges of the lawn. These will act as corridors for small creatures, and a place for over-wintering insects to shelter in.
Lawn weeds such as clover, buttercups, daisies and dandelions often appear in uncut grass, providing nectar. Long grass is an excellent habitat for nesting bumblebees too.
In fact, the more wild areas you can create in your garden, the better. A wild, undisturbed corner that's left to its own devices can support all kinds of wildlife.
Nettles are especially useful. A single nettle patch can support over 40 species of insects, and the plants provide food for caterpillars – so are good for butterflies, especially small tortoiseshells and peacocks.
Invertebrates love decaying wood, so leave fallen branches in situ or create a log pile. Any damp corner that's not doing a lot else is great for this type of habitat.
Insects need food too, so plant a range of nectar-rich flowers, shrubs and trees to offer a constant supply of nectar from early spring to late autumn.
Remember to include some night-scented plants for moths – nicotiana and honeysuckle, for example. And avoid frilly double-flowered varieties, as these contain little nectar and are difficult for pollinators to access.
Don't forget that many trees are good for insects too – for example moth caterpillars feed on the leaves of rowan trees, and fruit trees produce blossom that's an excellent source of nectar for bumblebees.
Here are six suggestions of plants to grow that insects will love.
Snowdrops are one of the first flowers to bloom – sometimes as early as January. They make a brilliant breakfast for insects emerging from hibernation during warm spells.
Buddleia is also called the “butterfly bush” – plant some and you'll see why – but bees love it too. It's easy to grow in sun or shade – just cut it back in spring for loads of new summer flowers.
Dandelions are popular with bees, butterflies, hoverflies and lacewings. The bright yellow flowers start appearing in early spring, and continue right through to autumn, so are a readily available year-round source of nectar.
Lavender has lovely lilac flowers and a wonderful, relaxing scent. Bees love it, and there's nothing like the sight of a bumblebee dangling upside down on a lavender flower to lift the spirits.
Scabious is a super little plant with purple flowers that keep going right through summer. To attract butterflies such as painted ladies and red admirals, as well as bees, choose scabiosa 'Butterfly Blue'.
Sedums bloom well into autumn, providing a late feast for bees, butterflies and hoverflies – many insects need this boost near the end of the year to see them through winter.
Little Green Space January 2018
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