Boost your BUGS
Kitchen Garden|October 2021
Gardens that are alive with bugs – whether beetles or bees – are healthy, beautiful places to be. They’re also more productive. Benedict Vanheems shares some simple tips to give bugs a boost this autumn and beyond
Benedict Vanheems

Where would we be without the wonderful world of bugs? Only a generation ago the default setting for gardens was manicured and sterile. An arsenal of artificial sprays, overzealous trimming and vigorous thwacking back helped us get there, but at what cost?

Attitudes have changed and the realisation has dawned that – hey – why don’t we just work with nature instead? It’s a lot less effort and makes for a far more interesting outlook.

Our patches of green and pleasant land should contribute opportunities for wildlife, not aggravate it. Nature is in crisis, yet the power is in our hands to do something about it, right here in our gardens and allotments. We all stand to benefit, and so do our crops.

Gardeners could do with a being a little less obsessive, so every year I do my best to let go just a little bit more. The lawn is mown less often, more patches of nettles are let be, and nectar-rich wildflowers are left to sow freer. Then when the season’s over, the secateurs are wielded with restraint. The result of all this is a noticeable increase in bees, hoverflies, butterflies, and a host of other insects, along with the birds that feed on them. It turns out leaving areas to run a little wilder brings a real sense of joy – it’s a beautiful place to be on every level.

If you’re curious to boost the bugs in your garden and fuel the cascade of benefits that come with it, these tips may help. Support the little guys and everything else follows.

LEAF IT OUT!

It won’t be long before the leaves start to rain down on our gardens. Tip number one is to leave them where they fall as much as you can bear. Rake them up from patios, paths, and decking – you don’t want these surfaces getting slippery – but, where possible, let the leaves stay put on lawns, beds and borders. Collected leaves can be piled or bagged up to turn into leafmould, while those left behind will soon get incorporated by the resident worm population, ready for you to get on and sow and plant come spring.

Some of the best soil you’ll find lies on the woodland floor, and it’s all thanks to the leaf litter. Leaves are nature’s mulch, and it’s a wise gardener who makes the most of this plentiful supply of organic matter. As well as enriching your soil and returning nutrients back into the ground, out-of-the-way (and wind) leaf piles offer homes to a host of beneficial bugs, as well as potential safe havens for hedgehogs and amphibians like toads to sit out winter.

CUT OUT THE CUTBACK

It’s tempting to cut back ornamental borders so they’re neat, tidy and ‘put to bed’, but insects have other ideas. Hollow stems, old seedheads, sticks, log piles, and down in the crown of plants – it’s all valuable habitat for insects, including pest predators such as overwintering hoverflies and ladybirds. The longer you can delay cutting back the better. In fact, there’s no real need to cut back until spring, when the first new growth pushes through.

LET THE GRASS GROW

Similarly, let the grass grow a bit longer before it stops for winter. Longer grass, with more tufts and thatch, provides a welcome refuge for many caterpillars, as well as ground-dwelling bugs. Then once growth resumes in spring, try mowing less frequently. Once a fortnight is enough but it’s worth experimenting.

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