Did you know that the majority of insects are either beneficial or of no direct significance to your garden plants? But there is a fraction of bugs that are pests and do they demand a lot of attention! When you are tempted to pull out the bug sprays, wait a minute and consider most sprays do not discriminate between good bugs and bad ones. In your garden, the best way to battle the bad bugs is to enlist an opposing army of good ones. For every bug chewing on your garden plants, there are predator bugs ready to make a meal of them. You just need to know how to attract the beneficial ones to your garden.
Beneficial insects pollinate flowers to make fruit and others eat the pests that want to eat your garden plants or suck the life out of them. One of the best ways to attract beneficials is to create a welcoming environment for them both by adding plants they like either to eat or as places to rest. For example morning glory vines attract ladybugs and hoverflies, goldenrod beckons ladybugs, assassin bugs and parasitic wasps. Such a garden can be as simple as planting some grasses, perennial alfalfa, goldenrod, or hairy vetch in front of a row of fruit-bearing shrubs. Blanket flower, garlic chives, coreopsis, flowering dill, rudbeckia, milkweed, butterfly weed, purple cone flower, coral honeysuckle, Thai basil, rosemary, cilantro, and thyme can serve both as beneficial bug attracters and bad bug repellants. Be sure to add some standing watering spots for them, like a small pond with floating plants for them to stand on to drink.
Attract these beneficial bugs to your garden:
Assassin Bugs – These scary looking ½ inch long insects look like miniature robots monsters. These ambush predators have tubular mouthparts, called a proboscis, which they use to inject a lethal saliva that liquefies the insides of the prey, which are then sucked out. Don’t mess with these bugs, they can stab you, too.
Green Lacewing – In its adult phase, the green lacewing eats only pollen and nectar, but its larval form is the famous aphid lion, a creature that devours soft-bodied insects like aphids, scale, thrips, mealybugs, spider mites, whiteflies, the nymphs of leafhoppers and the eggs of many caterpillars.
Hoverfly – These master flyers are able to zip around, hover, and even fly backwards. Hoverflies are important pollinators of flowering plants second only to bees. These fly species have been shown to prefer white and yellow colored flowers. Adults feed on nectar and deposit eggs on the leaves of plants that attract various pests. The eggs hatch into ugly little maggot like larvae that feed on aphids and other small, succulent bugs.
Ladybug – Also known as lady beetles or ladybirds in Britain, these insects are not classified as true bugs. The majority of their species are generally considered useful insects, because many prey on herbivorous insects such as aphids or scale insects, agricultural pests. Many lay their eggs directly in aphid and scale insect colonies to ensure their larvae have an immediate food source. Each adult ladybug can consume about 5,000 aphids in its lifetime. Even the larvae eat 50 to 60 aphids a day. The ladybug larvae are dark,, flightless and alligator like with orange spots. Don’t be tempted to dispatch this garden friend. To attract them plant goldenrod, yarrow, and morning glory.
Minute Pirate Bug – These very small insects appear in spring to make the gardener’s job easier. They are less than 1/5” long, black or dark purple with white markings at the tips of their wings so they appear to have white pants when the wings are closed. Nymphs are between a yellow-orange color and brown and shaped like a teardrop. Fast movers, they are very predatory, feeding on aphids, spider mites and thrips. Each adult pirate bug can consume as many as 20 thrips larvae each day. Both the adult and nymphs feed by inserting their mouthparts into its prey and sucking out the body fluids.
To attract them plant marigolds, cosmos, caraway, alfalfa, spearmint, fennel and goldenrod.
Praying Mantis – Possibly the best-known of the beneficial insects, they are also the most overrated.They don’t each much, but when they do, they are as likely to eat good bugs as well as bad ones. These ambush predators feed upon live prey within their reach. They either camouflage themselves and remain stationary, waiting for prey to approach, or stalk their prey with slow, steady movements. The spiked, raptorial forelegs grasp the prey and hold it fast during feeding. Some mantis nymphs mimic ants to avoid predators.
Spined Soldier Bugs – This bug likes to harpoon its prey, which includes hornworms, potato and Mexican bean beetles, gypsy moth caterpillars and cabbage worms. Once the victim is stabbed, the soldier bug injects a paralyzing venom and sucks the victim’s body fluids. This insect is a member of the stinkbug family. There are 5 instar nymph stages in between the egg and adult life form. All but the first stage instar are voracious eaters.
Trichogramma Wasp – This is the best known of a group of parasitic wasps. The adult wasp feeds onnectar, but they lay their eggs within the eggs of other garden pests like corn eagworms, cutworms, cabbage worms and various borers.The newborn was starts life by feasting on the embryo of the host. Despite it miniscule size – 1 mm or less0 these wasps are an efficient killer of some 200 undesirable insects. It uses smell to determine the suitability of a host for deposit of its egg. During her 9-11 day life, the female wasp will seek out and destroy about 100 pest eggs. Depending upon climatic conditions a new adult will emerge in about a week
Ground Beetles – These shiny black beetles crawl out at night
from under logs, stones and boards to eat slugs, snails, cutworms and root maggots.There are more than 3,000 species of ground beetles in North America. They are fierce predators and target some of the peskiest pests on the planet. If you turn over a rock where one is hiding during the day, his immediate response will be to run away, if they can. If cornered, many will give off an unpleasant odor, release a toxic substance that burns or stains if it touches your skin. Just about any of them will give you a painful nip if you’re careless.
Ground beetles and all kinds of other helpful critters will flock to your yard and garden if you follow these basic guidelines:
- Lay off pesticides – they kill good and bad bugs.
- Have something for everybody – plant as many different kinds of flowers, herbs, vegetables, fruits, and even trees and shrubs as you have room for.
- Give them a drink – it doesn’t have to be a big pond. In fact, a few small dishes dunk into the ground and filled with pebbles and water will work fine.
- Give them shelter – provide shrubs, perennial flower beds, hedgerows, and a few clumps of weeds where your allies can make their homes.
- Don’t panic – if you are going to have good bugs, they will need to have some bad bugs to eat.
Billie Nicholson, Editor