Skip to main content

How To Create an Insect Habitat with an Intensive Green Roof

close-up of a green roof with green, brown, and yellow patches of plants and flowers and a rock path cutting through the center
Detail of the green roof at Crystal Bridges. Photo by Stephen Ironside.

From spiders and mosquitoes to moths and butterflies, insects and arachnids can make you squeal in fear or delight you with their graceful movements. Whether you love them or hate them, these small creatures play a vital role in our food production, sanitation, and in maintaining healthy ecosystems. All living things—humans included—face challenges due to an abundance of development in areas that were once natural. Creating pockets of habitat for insects is just as vital as other environmental initiatives that have cuter mascots (think polar bears).

image of maman sculpture on the museum grounds
Louise Bourgeois, Maman, 1999, bronze, stainless steel, and marble, 30ft. 5 in. × 29ft. 3 in. × 33ft. 7 in. Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas, 2014.20.

Creating habitat for our six- or eight-legged friends can be accomplished in surprising places. For example, green roofs provide an excellent opportunity to create habitat in urban environments. Intensive green roofs (those with a soil depth over 6”) provide many possibilities for plant selections that provide food and shelter for both insects and birds. Wind-resistant trees, deeply rooted prairie plants, and even gardens for food production can work with this type of construction. But shallow soil roof systems, called intensive green roofs, can work as well.

a beetle sits on a clump of white flowers

Our green roof is only six inches deep but boasts over 20,000 flowering sedums and perennials. The shallow soil depth provides habitat for mason bees, sweat bees, and other pollinating insects which make their homes underground. The addition of beehives provides one more space for busy pollinators to work and live.

You, too, can add a green roof to your home. Sheds and other buildings can be retrofitted to accommodate shallow-rooted plants. You’ll be the talk of the neighborhood while also helping creatures big and small.


a side-angle of a shelf filled with plants and succulents in various shades of green and red
Creator: Cross Martina | Credit: macrossphoto - Copyright: Martina Cross.

If a green roof is not practical for you, but you’d still like to incorporate an insect habitat into your outdoor space, here are some easy tips that you can follow:

1. Leave piles of sticks or fallen branches in various places throughout your yard. You can also place small piles of stones in your outdoor space. If you are looking for something more structural, try adding a gabion! Gabions are metal cages filled with stone. The crevices between the stones (or branches) provide a place for year-round habitat.

2. Don’t cut down perennial plants or grasses in the fall. Leave them up throughout the winter. Burrowing insects will use the dead flower stalks as winter homes or shelter under the dried leaves of ornamental grasses and fallen tree leaves.

3. Incorporate water into your outdoor space. Like all living creatures, insects and spiders need water too. If an ornamental water feature is too complex, trying adding a stone water bowl. It will capture rain and provide a nice focal point throughout the year.

4. Maintain your outdoor space using organic methods. Pesticides greatly reduce the amount of ALL insect activity, including beneficial insects.

5. Make your own insect hotel by creating a wood frame and filling it with different sized sticks, bamboo, brick and other natural materials. If possible, give it a waterproof roof and place in an eastern-facing location.


an insect hotel structure made of wood and divided into cubbies for various insects to nest
An insect hotel.

Written by Samantha Best, outdoor interpretation specialist, Crystal Bridges.