Some garden insects kill plants whilst others – the beneficial insects — destroy the insects that would kill the plants. I do everything I can to encourage these beneficials to spend time in my garden, feasting on the destructive bugs and spreading pollen from plant to plant. The result: fewer insect problems and healthier and more productive gardens.
I started my adventure into gardening with beneficial insects by following these four key steps.
#1 Stop using pesticides
Insecticides can’t tell the good bugs from the bad bugs. If you use insecticides you will kill off the very insects you want to stay in your garden. Do not use pesticides if you want beneficial insects to become your allies in the garden.
If you have been using pesticides you may see a jump in pest problems until the beneficial insects build up in number. Over time the pest population will start going down as lady bug beetles and other good insects make your garden their home. Don’t cheat; even one spraying of poison can send any remaining beneficial insects to a more hospitable garden.
#2 Attract beneficial garden insects
Have you ever stopped at a restaurant because you liked the aromas wafting out the door? Insects aren’t so different — certain flowers attract them to the garden.
You can extend your welcome by planting for the beneficial insects. I mix the flowers in with my crops, but many gardeners plant a separate bed of plants that attract beneficial garden insects. Plant a variety of plants that bloom at different times to nourish the insects throughout the season.
Like people, insects need sugar and protein. Nectar plants such as fennel, dill, sweet alyssum, and carrots give insects the sugar they need. Hover flies, parasitic wasps, lady beetles, and lacewings favour these tiny flowers. Protein comes from pollen, which insects get from daisy-like flowers such as asters and Echinacea.
Trap plants attract insects that the beneficial insects feed on. Lacewings and hover flies lay their eggs near aphids and other soft-bodied insects. When the eggs hatch each hungry larva eats up to 60 aphids a day. It may sound strange to grow plants to attract the bad insects, but that’s what brings in the beneficial ones, just like the aroma from the restaurant.
If you are interested, check out this table from the USDA listing the plants to attract beneficial garden insects with greater detail.
#3 Give insects water
Insects need water. They can get it from puddles from a sprinkler or an irrigation system;. Sometimes there’s enough water in the ground.
You can make an insect watering hole by putting pebbles in a shallow plant saucer and setting the saucer into the ground. The lip of the saucer should be with level with the ground. Keep a steady supply of water in the saucer.
#4 Mulch your garden
Ground beetles, rove beetles, and other ground-dwelling beneficial insects do their work at night under the soil, eating slugs and other pests. Use mulch to protect them from the sun and keep the soil moist so they don’t dry out.
Mulch also keeps down the dust, which is important because many beneficial garden insects don’t like dust.
My garden is surrounded by fields of alfalfa and clover, so the beneficial garden insects came on their own. You can, however, buy aphids, lacewings, and other beneficial garden insects. Even though most of them will fly away the ones that stay will be a big boon to your garden.
I’d love to hear about your experience with beneficial garden insects! What are the methods that worked best for you?
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