Ten Beneficial Insects You Should Want In Your Garden
Insects get a bad rap. Of the millions of species of insects, only about five percent are harmful to humans, our pets, and our plants. The rest do not cause a problem. They can actually be beneficial because they eat the harmful insects in your garden. Spraying pesticides indiscriminately every time you see an insect will decimate the good insects, leaving the field clear for harmful insects to move in. You end up with more harmful insects than you had before you sprayed. Instead, spot spray on heavily infested plants and do not spray the rest of the garden so the beneficial have someplace to run to. Here are ten beneficial insects you want in your garden.
- Aphid Midge. Pollen attracts the aphid midge, but his real food is aphids. He eats up to sixty different kinds of aphids without hurting you or your plants. The aphid midge is a tiny maggot of a fly.
- Braconid Wasps. The female braconid wasp finds insects such as caterpillars, moths, beetle larvae, and aphids. She then injects her eggs into the host. The larvae eath the host from the inside out, killing it about the time the larvae are ready to change into the wasp. To attract braconid wasps, grow nectar plants with small flowers, such as dill, parsley, wild carrot, and yarrow.
- Damsel Bugs. Damsel bugs feed on a little of everything: aphids, small caterpillars, leafhoppers, thrips and whatever else they can find. These bugs frequent alfalfa fields, so you can use a sweep net and catch them there, then release them in your garden.
- Nocturnal Ground Beetle. These beetles prey on slugs, snails, cutworms, cabbage maggots, and whatever else lives in your garden’s soil. One beetle larva can eat more than fifty caterpillars. To attract them to your garden, plant perennials around your garden plants. Plant white clover as a cover crop in your garden or orchard.
- Lacewings. Usually it is the larvae stage that eats the harmful insects in your garden. In this case, both the larvae and the adult lacewing eat aphids, caterpillars, mealybugs, scales, thrips, and whiteflies. Plants that attract lacewings include angelica, coreopsis, cosmos, and sweet alyssum.
- Lady Beetles (aka Lady Bugs). This is another mom and daughter team. They eat aphids, mites, mealybugs, and other harmful insects. They are attracted to gardens with dill, fennel, yarrow, coreopsis, and angelica in the garden.
- Minute Pirate Bugs. The quick-moving, black-and-white minute pirate bugs will attack almost any insect. To attract them to your garden, plant goldenrods, daisies, alfalfa, and yarrow around and among your plants.
- Soldier Beetles. Soldier beetles prey on almost any insect they see. That is a good thing if the insect is a pest, but not so good if the insect is beneficial. Soldier beetles are attracted by cat nip, goldenrods, and hydrangea.
- Spined Soldier Bug. This bug eats hairless caterpillars and beetle larvae. It makes its home in beds of permanent perennials.
- Tachinid fly. This is another fly that lays her eggs inside of caterpillars. When the eggs hatch, the larvae eat the caterpillar from the inside out, killing it. This fly likes dill, parsley, and sweet cover as an adult.
You can buy many species of beneficial insect from supply houses on the internet. However, the insects tend to scatter when you release them and most of them do not stay in the garden you release them in. A better plan is to attract beneficial by providing the ideal habitat for them. Then the beneficial insects will stick around long enough to eat your garden pests. They will reproduce and lay eggs and as long as you do not poison them, they will stay.
Beneficial insects, like all living creatures, need three things: food, water, and shelter.
Food. The best way to feed your beneficial is to plant a variety of perennials in a border around the flower bed or garden. The goal is to have plenty of nectar and pollen available from early spring to late fall. If you have a vegetable garden, you can plant the perennials around and in the garden to bring the beneficial insects to your plants. You can even alternate a row of vegetables with a row of perennials to bring the pollinators right to the plants that need them most.
Water. Many beneficial insects are tiny and difficult to see. They are also too small to use a bird bath to drink from safely. Fill the saucer of a large pot with pebbles, then put enough water in it for the water to almost cover the pebbles. This gives tiny beneficial insects a place to get water without risking drowning. Be sure and put fresh water in it every day. This keeps it from evaporating away and keeps mosquitoes from laying their eggs in the still water.
Shelter. Even though the beneficial insects we have talked about are predators, they are also preyed on birds, lizards, toads, and other garden inhabitants. Planting flowers in your vegetable garden or as part of the border in your flower beds will give the beneficial insects places to hide and rest between trips into the garden. Setting up permanent paths that are mulched will let night hunters rest during the day hidden in the mulch. It will also give them a place to overwinter so you have beneficial insects the next year.
To learn more about beneficial insects and how to attract them to your landscape, you can contact an organization such as the Xerces Society. This charity works hard to conserve invertebrate life forms such as beneficial insects. They have plant lists so you can make sure you put in the right pollen and nectar plants for the beneficial insects you want to protect. They even have a book on Attracting Native Pollinators. Since much of our food is pollinated by native pollinators, conserving them means we can keep eating the range of foods we have now.