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As an organic gardener, I have learned that not all insects are pests. Several species of insects are considered beneficial to our lawns and gardens. They help eliminate the bugs that do damage to all of our hard work.
The use of these beneficial insects is a type of biological control, or using other living organisms to control the pests that harm our trees, shrubs, lawns, and gardens. Put simply, the good bugs eat the bad bugs. There are a number of reasons why you should consider this method of organically controlling garden pests.
Why Use Beneficial Insects
When I can eliminate the use of chemical pesticides and herbicides, I don’t have to worry about biting into my homegrown tomatoes, cucumbers, and other garden fruits and veggies. Much research points to these chemicals as the cause of headaches, nausea, and other ills including long-term effects like cancer and birth defects.
When you spray your plants with chemical pesticides, you do more than wipe out harmful insects. You also kill the beneficial ones. This can be devastating to the long-term maintenance of your garden because you will have no population of natural predators to control the bad bug population. It’s true that you may succeed in wiping out the first crop of pests, but the successive wave of insects will take over with a vengeance.
Researchers are finding that many insects are beginning to show resistance to chemical pesticides. The Pesticide Action Network reports that as many as 1,000 insects and weed species have developed this resistance since 1945. But insects will never be resistant to being devoured by another insect.
Last but not least, I like the fact that if I create an environment for beneficial bugs that are native to my area to thrive in, I won’t have to spend any money on pesticides.
Things to Consider Before Introducing Beneficial Insects
Check on regulations and permits in your area. If you plan to purchase them, you may need a permit before importing some species of insects. Inform your neighbors about what you are doing. You don’t want them spraying pesticides near your property. This could affect your garden.
If your neighbors also enjoy gardening, educate them on the benefits you are looking to enjoy with beneficial insects. You also want to be sure the vegetation and climate are a suitable environment for your helpful insects.
Attracting Beneficial Insects
To attract beneficial insects to your garden first learn who the good guys are and then provide them with the correct habitat. You can get close to nature and become an observer and get close to nature with a hand lens and a picture book of insects to get an idea of the demographics of your insect population.
If you have already banned the use of chemicals and have several types of plants growing, you will likely see some creeping garden helpers already. The most common ones will be ladybugs, lacewings, hoverflies, truly bugs, and tiny wasps.
Insects are especially attracted to small flowers grown in clusters and those with daisy-like blossoms. I like planting zinnias, marigolds, and cosmos in the garden. They can be started from seeds and are easy to grow. The flowers of herbs are also very attractive to insects. Allow your parsley, basil, and cilantro to go to flower in your garden. Other plants to consider include thyme, oregano, chives, and fennel. Have something in bloom from early spring to late fall.
Common Species of Beneficial Insects
Some of these beneficial insects don’t do the actual work of killing off the bad bugs themselves. They feed off of the nectar and pollen of flowers and then produce offspring. As the eggs hatch, they turn into the larvae stage. It is at this stage that they hunt and eat harmful insects.
Other beneficial insects are adult predators that feed directly off the harmful ones. The ladybug is a well-known insect that does this. It will devour aphids, whitefly, mites, and some types of beetles.
Plant dandelion, dill, Common Yarrow, and Basket of Gold to attract ladybugs or purchase them at your garden center. The praying mantis loves to feed on crickets, moths, and caterpillars. They like to gather among shrubs and tall grasses and are also attracted by dill, cosmos, and marigold.
Ground beetles are excellent for controlling caterpillars, slugs, and cutworms. You may not notice them since they are active at night. They are attracted to clover and evening primrose. Aphid Midges will feed on more than sixty other types of harmful aphids. They love flowering plants with plenty of nectar.
The braconid wasp’s prey includes caterpillars, aphids, and tomato hornworms. They actually kill caterpillars by laying their eggs inside of them. Plant lemon balm, common yarrow, and parsley to attract them.
Damsel Bugs devour mites, aphids, caterpillars, cabbage worms, and potato beetles. They are attracted by alfalfa, fennel, goldenrod, and spearmint. The larvae stage of the green lacewing feeds on the caterpillars of pest moths, aphids, whitefly, mealybugs, and leafhoppers. They are attracted by dandelion, dill, and coriander.
The soldier beetle preys on soft-bodied insects, aphids, and grasshopper eggs. Include zinnia, goldenrod, and marigold in your garden to attract them. They also are attracted to linden trees.
Hover flies control caterpillars, scale insects, and aphids while they are in their larvae stage. The adult feeds on pollen and lays eggs. The adult hoverfly is attracted by dill, common yarrow, fern-leaf yarrow, and basket of gold.
Graphic Credit: Organiclesson.com
You can plan your garden and lawn to attract these beneficial insects or purchase them at larger garden centers and nurseries. If you buy them, make sure to provide some suitable plants for them. A common mistake some gardeners make is overpopulation with beneficial insects. There must be enough prey to go around or they will go elsewhere to look for food. Also, monitor your plants often to make sure beneficial insects are not outnumbered.