Birds and beneficial insects not only make a garden a more interesting place, they also help control pests and improve flower pollination. Gardening organically helps make them feel welcome, but providing a specially made home really rolls out the red carpet and encourages them to stay.
When to start: Summer.
At their best: Autumn to winter.
Time to complete: 30 minutes.
You will need: Clippers, bamboo canes, modeling clay, raffia or string, small terracotta or plastic pot.
Solitary bees are excellent pollinators, but they can struggle to find nesting sites. A home-made nest looks attractive and provides them with a home, as well as ensuring bumper harvests.
Cut lengths of bamboo
Use sharp clippers to cut short lengths of bamboo canes that will fit into your pot. The natural variation in diameter will attract different bee species.
Push them into a pot
Fill the base of a terracotta pot with modeling clay and push the cut bamboo canes firmly into it. Continue doing this until the pot is packed tightly.
Hang your hotel
Tie raffia or string firmly around the pot and suspend it from a hook or attach it to a wall. Choose a sheltered, sunny site, and angle the open end of the pot downward so that the bamboo canes do not fill up with water when it rains.
Tips: Flower food
To make life even better for your resident bees, position the nest close to a border planted with nectar-rich flowers. They will then have only a short distance to travel for food, which will be a great help to them in spring.
Choosing and siting a nest
Encourage birds to visit your garden and you will have a ready army of pest-eaters on your side. If you can persuade them to make their nests and rear their young there too, they will make a fascinating animated addition to the flowers and foliage. Put up one or two nest boxes, and see who moves in.
Choosing the right box
Birds are picky about where they live, so it is important to choose the right type of box. Select one that is made from an insulating material, such as wood to prevent them from becoming too hot or cold, and avoid any made from ceramic or those with metal roofs. Correct hole size is also important: too small, and the birds you want to attract may not fit; too large, and wind, rain, and even predators may get in. The box should be robust, waterproof, safe, and comfortable. Different bird species have different needs, so if you want to make a home for a particular species, do some research and first find out what suits it.
Siting your box
Nest boxes should be sited in a sheltered place, away from strong sunlight, wind, and rain. Position them in the quietest area of the garden, away from feeding areas, and at least 5 ft (1.5 m) above the ground. This mimics the nesting places birds naturally prefer, and keeps them safe from predators. Choose a position away from large branches where cats can lurk, but where there are flimsy twigs nearby to give fledglings somewhere to perch when they first leave the nest. The best time to put up nest boxes is outside the breeding season, between midsummer and late winter.
Tips: Home-made box
If you want to make your own bird box, wood is probably the easiest and best material to use. There are plenty of plans and designs available that only require simple tools and basic carpentry skills. Wood needs to be treated to prevent it from decaying, and you may also decide to stain or paint it. In all cases, choose products that are nontoxic and wildlife friendly to help keep your birds healthy.