By far the most numerous and diverse type of animals in our gardens are minibeasts,
a general term for invertebrates which includes everything from spiders, snails, woodlice, worms, millipedes, centipedes, false scorpions, mites, and earthworms to all manner of common insects. Gardens are ideal for minibeasts as they are full of useful microhabitats such as ponds, compost heaps, rockeries, flower borders and shrubberies that mimic good examples of natural habitats. Minibeasts are crucial for the smooth running of our gardens as they help pollinate crops and flowers, tidy up the remains of dead plants and animals, and are vital links in the food-chains that support other favourite garden animals such as birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles.
Why we should love minibeasts
There’s a common misconception that all insects should be regarded as pests, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Many visitors to our gardens play a vital role in maintaining the environment and keeping it safe from more hostile species. For example, ladybirds, lacewings and hoverflies all eat aphids, while ground and rove beetles tackle slugs and caterpillars. Various spiders and parasite wasps and flies will also help limit the numbers of most other minibeasts. Providing appropriate cover and nectar sources will encourage predators and other parasitic species to live in the garden and actually help cut the number of pests, so why not make your garden more welcoming to these incredible little creatures?
Where do minibeasts feast?
Minibeasts feed on a wide variety of plants in our gardens – many eat the leaves, stems, flowers and even the wood of garden plants, while others prefer the foliage of trees and shrubs or herbaceous plants and grasses. Where a plant grows in a garden can be key to whether minibeasts will feed on it. As a rule, the majority of minibeasts prefer plants that grow in sunshine rather than shaded areas of the garden, while plants growing at the edge of a border or shrubbery are also firm favourites.
Where do minibeasts feast?
Probably the most valuable feature of the garden for insects is the abundance of flowers. Nectar is the main energy source for insects and the protein found in pollen is vital for the production of their eggs. Most insects are attracted to flowers with an open, flat structure that allows easy access to the nectar within. Particularly valuable are plants in the rose family, while tubular or bell shaped flowers such as foxgloves and snap dragons are excellent for attracting bees. Why not try a wildflower mix? These are excellent for attracting all sorts of wildlife & the seeds are a valuable source of food for your garden birds. Aim to provide a good variety of flowers throughout most of the year, and don’t forget to look for the pollinator logo on plant care cards when choosing your garden plants to find those varieties that will be most popular with insects.
How to create the perfect habitat for minibeasts in your garden
Most garden minibeasts need somewhere to hide at certain times, either to sleep, escape from predators, or shelter from the elements. Cover is very important, so don’t worry about tidying too much in your garden – dense vegetation, clumps of grass or plants with a rosette of leaves that minibeasts can get beneath all offer good retreats, while dead leaves, grass thatch, old seed heads and hollow stems also make good hiding places. Many minibeasts hibernate during the winter months and providing cover for them is essential. Stones, bits of wood, loose bark – anything that creatures can get into or underneath is valuable, as is a cool winter time compost heap.
However, it’s not just in the winter that minibeasts need somewhere special to rest. As they cannot generate their own body heat, minibeasts must get their warmth from external sources, usually from sunshine. Little warm spots in a garden are therefore vital for them to survive. Bare soil in a vegetable patch, concrete paths, rockeries, and walls are all regular sunbathing spots. Other useful hot spots are sun traps within the shrubbery or herbaceous border, especially if located among nectar-rich flowers.