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For Rent: Bat and Insect Houses

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You might have a birdhouse or two in your yard, but have you considered including real estate for different kinds of garden helpers?  Bats and ladybugs can boost your outdoor enjoyment by controlling pests that irritate you and destroy your plants.  Bees and butterflies assist plants with pollination and add to the aesthetics of your landscape.  MasterGardening.com offers a variety of bat and insect houses to accommodate your new friends.  Here’s a few tips on how to encourage these little visitors to make your yard their home:

Bats

While bats might give some people the shivers, they can be very beneficial residents on your property when provided with a nice place to live.  One bat can eat hundreds of bugs a night, including mosquitoes and other pests that we’d rather not have around.  Bats are currently facing habitat loss all over the country, so here’s how you can help them out (and hopefully lose a few of those mosquitoes in the process).

Bat Conservation International (www.batcon.org) is an organization working diligently to protect the natural habitat and health of bat species across the globe.  They also encourage those who might be interested to install their own bat houses, and have some helpful tips on how to mount your new house and attract bats to roost.  They recommend mounting your house to either a building or a pole at least twelve feet off the ground, though closer to twenty feet from the ground is better.  Maintaining a comfortable temperature and proper sun exposure is key to making your bats want to stay.  Though you might think of bats living in cool dark caves, they are actually happiest roosting at temperatures between eighty and one hundred degrees Fahrenheit, particularly if nursing pups.  Position your bat house such that it will receive six to ten hours of direct sunlight a day.  How much sunlight your bat house should get will depend on where you live and the average temperatures for that area.  Lastly, consider the area around your bat house.  BCI recommends that bat houses not be placed more than a quarter of a mile from the nearest permanent water source, like a pond or stream.  Your bat house will also be more likely to attract residents when placed in an environmentally diverse area with an array of habitats, like fields, wooded areas, and swamps.  Bats will be attracted to all of these habitats and the buffet of insects that will be available to them.

Butterflies

There are few things more satisfying to a gardener than watching scores of butterflies fluttering from flower to flower looking for nectar.  Not only do they add beauty to your landscape, but they also help to pollinate the flowers on which they land, making them welcome helpers in any garden.

To attract butterflies to your yard, you will need to create a formidable butterfly garden, including plants from which they can feed and those on which they can lay eggs.  When it comes to food, butterflies are attracted to many kinds of flowers, including clover, dandelions, zinnia, goldenrod, aster, ice plant, coneflower, and buddleia (you probably that last one a butterfly bush).  Butterflies are more attracted to some flowers than others, and with some research you can tailor your butterfly garden to attract butterflies that are native to your area.   They are also particular about where they will lay eggs.  For example, you might notice your parsley patch being torn to shreds by a colorful green and black caterpillar.  This is a black swallowtail butterfly in the making, and it, too, will lay its eggs in parsley and dill.  Monarchs, on the other hand, will leave your herbs alone in favor of milkweed for laying eggs.  Again, you should make note of what kinds of plants local butterflies use for their eggs and consider including them in your garden if possible.  When choosing a place to mount your butterfly house, pick a location with lots of sunlight and very close to your attractive plants.  It is important that the butterfly house is placed close to a water source or that you provide a dish from which they can drink.  You might also want to purchase a butterfly feeder or provide a dish of sugar water for them to feed on, as well.

Bees

When you think of a healthy garden and beautiful flowers, you might think of bees.  Lots and lots of bees.  Most people try their best to avoid bees, but the best pollinators, like mason, bumble, and honeybees are typically peaceful unless disturbed.  These bees will work with you to improve your garden, particularly if you encourage them to nest with a bumble or mason bee home.

The best thing that you can do to attract your bees before putting up a home is plant a large and appealing variety of flora nearby.  Bees enjoy fragrant plants like lavender, rosemary, mint, and honeysuckle, the blossoms of fruit trees, and brightly colored flowers like roses, dahlias, clematis, poppies, and sunflower.  They even enjoy a wide variety of trees.  You should also make sure that there is a source of water available to them not too far away from the house.  You may choose to place a birdbath or water dish close to the home that they can easily swoop down and sip from when the weather is hot.  When it comes to placing your bee house, you should never place it in direct sun.  Unlike bats, bees enjoy morning sun, but would rather be in the shade as the day gets hotter.  Place your bee house facing away from rain and wind that might get into the home and upset the bees, and as close to pollen sources as possible.  You will also need to make sure that mason bees have access to a source of mud as it is an important tool during the building of their nests.  You may mount the house at the desired height, making sure that it is high enough off the ground not to be disturbed by animals, water, or people.


File:Ladybug (1).jpgLadybugs

Mites and aphids are the enemies of all gardeners and farmers—their feeding damages and destroys foliage and new growth on plants.  Luckily, if aphids and mites are a problem on your plants, you can install a ladybug house.  Ladybugs happen to like aphids and mites very much, and can swallow thousands of them in a lifetime.  Keep garden pests controlled by inviting some ladybugs to live in your garden.

Like bees, there are certain plants that do seem to attract ladybugs to an area.  Some of these plants include dill, marigold, and feverfew.  Add these plants to you garden to encourage ladybugs to show interest.  Also, like bees, you will want to make sure that ladybugs have access to water, and can use a small dish to provide water for them.  Ladybugs are partial to warmer temperatures, so mount your ladybug house where it can receive ample sunlight, yet still have its openings shielded from wind and rain.  If you have an aphid or mite problem, it might be a good idea to place your ladybug house close to the affected areas—like the other insects and animals on this list, ladybugs don’t want to be too far from their food source.  You may also purchase and apply a liquid attractant to influence ladybugs to nest in your house.