Building a Bug Hotel with Found Items

Our 6 year old decided that he would like to build a bug hotel for the garden, so we collected sticks and branches from pruning bushes and trees in the garden, along with cones, moss, tree bark, and nut shells.

Our son had already built a tiny bug home (in a plastic yogurt pot) during a home education nature meet-up; however this time he had much grander plans and wanted to get some pallets and build something huge.

We decided it needed to be toned down a bit, and not take up half of the garden! So we came up with the idea of a triangular structure made from branches, which was small enough to move around and which could be placed into a gap in a garden border, out of the way.

This is a great project for children (with some adult help and supervision).

Bug hotel with a plant pot inside
Bug hotel with a plant pot inside

Insects in the garden

We have a lot of insects in our garden – bees, hoverflies, moths and butterflies (and a few less welcome such as wasps and spiders – but they have their place too). We also have many visiting birds, as well as bats, mice, toads and frogs.

We have been watching the bees in our garden, and intend to spend more time learning about them and trying to identify the different types. We know we have a few different types of bumble bee; we also have brown bees, black bees, tiny bees, larger bees, and burrowing bees who make holes on any exposed soil and even in the lawn.

Bee on lavender flower
Bee on lavender flower

If you have insects in your garden, and want to encourage them and help them through the winter, a bug hotel will give them somewhere to shelter and overwinter.

If you want to attract more insects to your garden, then as well as providing a place for insects to shelter and hibernate, think about the types of plants which you grow in your garden, and improve your garden if necessary.

Gardening to attract insects and other wildlife

If you want to make your garden more insect friendly, you will need to have a good variety of flowering plants which produce flowers throughout the year. Bees particularly love most herb plants such as lavender, thyme and marjoram. Every year when our marjoram plant flowers it is covered with bees and hoverflies, and the occasional butterfly. Butterflies and moths love buddleia and many other flowering shrubs. Grass is important too, but to benefit insects it needs to be allowed to produce flower heads – a neatly cropped lawn is not very insect friendly.
We will be creating a new article on wildlife gardening soon.

An area of the garden left to grow wild, with tall grasses and native wildflowers, can be fantastic for insects such as bees and butterflies. You could create your own miniature wildflower meadow.

Leave an untidy corner too: a few bricks, logs and branches, and broken clay plant pots can provide places for insects and small animals to shelter and nest.

If you can attract more insects to your garden, you will in turn attract other wildlife such as birds and small mammals. An insect friendly garden is generally a wildlife friendly garden as well.

Which insects use a bug hotel?

A bug hotel may attract all sorts of insects, as well as slugs, frogs and spiders.

A dry bug hotel will attract more flying insects, such as bees.

A damp bug hotel will attract more worms, woodlice, soil dwellers, slugs and possibly frogs or toads.

Different materials and textures attract different species:

  • Broken plant pots, slate and stones – beetles.
  • Logs and dead wood – woodlice and millipedes.
  • Fir cones, moss, dry leaves, straw, and hay – ladybirds, bees, and spiders.
  • Corrugated cardboard rolled into tubes – lacewings.
  • Bamboo canes and hollow plant stalks – solitary bees.

Planning our bug hotel

Our bug hotel was going to be dry, but may possibly be sited on top of a simple brick base to raise it up off the ground. This base in turn could incorporate a few logs to create homes for those bugs which prefer damper conditions.

Collecting things for our bug hotel

We wanted to use as many things collected from our garden, or from a local woodland area, as we could.

Collecting twigs, cones and bark for our bug hotel
Collecting twigs, cones and bark for our bug hotel

These are some of the things we collected for out bug hotel.

  • Branches and sticks pruned from trees and shrubs in our garden.
  • Pine cones: we collected some very large cones and some small cones.
  • Twigs and sticks from local woodland and our garden, many with lichens on them.
  • Tree bark collected in our local woodland: from a conifer tree which lost large sections of bark in sheets.
  • Dried moss, dried grass and dried plant stems collected from around the garden.
  • Walnut shell sections from a bag of walnuts we shelled.
  • Bamboo cane sections cut from some old, broken canes in our garden.

Building the bug hotel

We spent quite a lot of time just trying out ideas, trying to make it work, and figuring out how best to hold it all together.

The frame and base

We decided on an apex (triangular) structure: a wooden base with a row of branches fixed in a triangle shape, on top.

After testing how a few branches fitted together we found a few which would almost slot together – using the natural clefts in some sticks to lock it together – so these became the basis for the triangular shape, on to which we could add the other branches. This also gave the structure a pleasing organic look, with odd bends and twists in some of the pieces.

Bug hotel frame - first fix
Bug hotel frame – first fix

The base was made from a piece of ply with wood battens screwed to the two longest sides (two on top, two underneath). The top battens were added for screwing the angled branches to; the underneath battens were to raise the ply base from the ground, to slow down the rotting process.

Bug hotel - top view
Bug hotel – top view

The first pair of branches was drilled and then screwed onto the side battens, halfway along the base. Further branches were then leaned or wedged in to these to form the apex structure.

Once the shape was nearly complete and we were confident that it would work, these pieces were drilled and screwed to the base. Some garden wire was used to hold together a few pieces which were moving about too much.

Some extra holes were made into the ends of some thicker branches (see picture below).

Fixing together the bug hotel branches and creating more bug holes
Fixing together the bug hotel branches and creating more bug holes

The roof

The conifer bark sheets were attached to the completed apex using panel pins – acting as misshapen shingles. The structure was now starting to look like a Christmas gingerbread house!

Bug hotel - a roof made from tree bark
Bug hotel – a roof made from tree bark

Inside the bug hotel

  • Pine cones
  • Twigs and sticks
  • Dried moss
  • Dried grass stems
  • Walnut shells
  • Bamboo canes
  • Old clay plant pot

The plan was to place larger items, such as small branches and pieces of cane, at the bottom, along with a clay plant pot filled with smaller materials such as grass and moss. The clay pot will help to provide a dry and cosy area for small insects – a mini bug hotel inside a bug hotel.

The plant pot, once checked for size, was removed and filled with tree bark, dried papery bark from a bush (some of which was rolled into tubes), dried moss and dried grass, then placed back into the bug hotel.

Plant pot filled with tree bark and moss - to go in our bug hotel
Plant pot filled with tree bark and moss – to go in our bug hotel

Other items such as cones, tree bark, twigs and some walnut shells were packed around the outside of the plant pot.

The finished bug hotel and finding a suitable site for the bug hotel

to be continued . . . . .

Please check back soon.