A beautiful garden takes a lot of work. Watering, weeding, and fertilizing are all part of it. And so is pest control. But that doesn’t mean ridding the garden of all insects! It’s just the opposite – not all bugs are harmful. Many are hugely beneficial to your garden.
Most of these beneficial bugs offer a great service: they’ll be the ones to control the population of the bad bugs. At least one also helps your flowers spread and grow more directly.
So which bugs do you want in your garden, and how do you get them there? Let’s take a look!
Separating the Good From the Bad
For many of us, our first instinct when we see a bug, any bug, is to squash it. It might give us the heebie-jeebies just seeing them crawling along. And the reality is that many, many insects carry diseases or destroy plants. But it’s not all of them.
Allowing these good bugs to prosper in your garden helps keep the garden healthy. It also can help minimize the need for other forms of pest control. If you have children or grandchildren, this cycle of life can be a great way to teach them about the cycle of life. And really, there’s always more for us to learn, too!
Some helpful bugs can be attracted to your garden simply by adding the right kind of plants. Others may need to be introduced by you. You can often buy beneficial bugs at a nursery or even online. Of course, you’ll want to make sure you have the right conditions for them to want to stay. Otherwise, they could fly or crawl off to more attractive locations.
If you do buy insects, be sure that you get them from a reputable source. At times, the insects sold are caught in the wild, not raised. That means they may bring other problems with them, like parasites or disease.
Some Examples Of Beneficial Insects
This is by no means a complete list of insects that can be helpful in your garden. It’s simply a starter guide. Check with your local nursery for more information about what works best in your area and for your type of garden!
Ok, let’s get it out of the way. No, spiders aren’t insects. We know 🙂 But since they’re so often lumped in with “bugs” in general, we thought it best to include them here.
Spiders do creep many people out, but they also do a wonderful job controlling insects.
Some species of spiders prefer to build webs between the stalks of plants. Others prefer to live in mulch and ambush their prey.
Mosquitoes, fruit flies, aphids, thrips, and roaches are among favorite prey. But so are caterpillars, roaches, and scarabs.
Spiders will find their way to your yard if there is prey for them. The most important steps you can take are to let them, and their webs, be.
Ladybugs, on the other hand, are an insect. They’re also a creature we seem to have more appreciation for. Their red bodies with black spots are a familiar sight, even in children’s books. There are also other varieties, including yellow ones with spots.
Also known as lady beetles, these insects love to dine on soft-bodied insects like aphids, Colorado potato beetles, and mealy bugs. They’re most voracious in their larval state, but even in their “prettier” mature form, they still help get rid of pests.
They are attracted to a variety of plants, including dill, fern-leaf yellow, basket of gold, and common yarrow. They also like dandelions – so think twice before pulling up all of that “weed!”
Ladybugs may find their way to your yard especially if you plant those plants. You can also purchase this bug, but it’s still preferable to have some of these plants. Otherwise, this flying insect may fly off to greener pastures.
Ladybugs aren’t the only members of the beetle family that are good for getting rid of pests. The black ground beetle can be your night watchbug.
This nocturnal insect is great for dealing with pests that are more prone to appear in the darkness of night. Among its victims are slugs, Colorado potato beetles, cutworms, ants, and caterpillars.
During its larval stage, the ground beetle is especially voracious and can manage to eat around 50 caterpillars.
They like to have cover and may pass the winter in either the larval or adult stages. They’ll do best if they can hide beneath perennials or mulch year-round.
Aphids are a dangerous pest in any garden, but aphid midges are their mortal enemy. And the enemy of your enemy is your friend, right?
Aphid midges won’t harm your garden, but they do help get rid of around 60 types of aphid.
The aphid midge is a flying insect that measures less than ⅛ of an inch long. Like much of nature, the relationship between these species is vicious. The female aphid midge lays her eggs in an aphid colony. When the midges hatch, they start looking for food – and that is the aphids. They first paralyze them by injecting poison into their legs. Then they bite into their chest cavity and suck out the insides. Gross? Yes. Effective? Definitely – one midge can consume around 65 aphids a day, and they continue this phase for three to seven days.
If you have a problem with aphids, aphid midges are likely to show up on their own. But you can add them as well. They’re available in the pupa stage. They have a short life cycle and can reproduce several times in a season. But if you have a severe aphid problem, you may need to add aphid midge pupae three or four times a season.
The need for bees is huge! Unlike other insects in this article, these aren’t going to prey on bad bugs. Instead, they’re necessary for pollinating many types of flowers. That includes both ones that produce our food as well as ornamental ones.
There are lots of species of bees. Ground bees like bare soil, so you should leave a section unmulched. A dead tree can be a good home for mason bees.
If you have flowering plants, bees will come around. While not all plants need them for reproduction, there are plenty that do. Stay out of their way and they’ll stay out of yours while they go about providing their vital service.
Worried that your pests will just fly away before your allies can get them? Damsel flies are just what you want in your garden!
These aerial insects attack other flying bugs like mosquitoes, flies, and gnats. While these might not bother your plants all that much, they can be an annoyance to you as you go about your gardening.
They are attracted to Peter Pan goldenrod, spearmint, alfalfa, caraway, and fennel.
Another pretty bug with a big appetite, the green lacewing is great for dealing with thrips, aphids, caterpillars, and mealybugs.
Again, it’s the larvae that are the biggest eaters. Over their two-to-three week larval stage, they can devour 400 to 600 insects and eggs.
Of course, you want them happy so they’ll stay nearby. They like coreopsis, cosmos, and sweet alyssum. Their eggs do best with high humidity; around 75% is optimal. That will help guarantee their ongoing presence and preying on pests.
The praying mantis is known both for their unique look and size and for their “sexual cannibalism.” But their appetites aren’t limited to devouring each other.
It’s their favorite meals, though, who should be praying. These include roaches, flies, mosquitoes, caterpillars and moths, beetles, and aphids. Even small rodents may be their meal.
A mantis’ forelegs can move twice as fast as a fly, making them fantastic at catching their victims!
Despite popular stories, praying mantises are not endangered, and you won’t get in legal trouble if you kill one. But with all they offer, why would you ever want to!
Fungus Gnat Predator
When “predator” is part of your name, you have a lot to live up to. Fortunately, the fungus gnat predator does the job admirably.
When you face the root destruction caused by fungus gnats, you’ll be glad to know that Stratiolaelaps scimitus (formerly Hypoaspis miles) exists. These are tiny, and you probably couldn’t identify them with the naked eye – they measure only about one millimeter across (that’s 1/25 of an inch!).
But they gladly make a meal of insects that live in the soil, like thrips pupae, springtails, and obviously, fungus gnat larvae. They mature to the adult stage in two and a half weeks when there is enough food around. They can live about 4 or 5 months as adults.
Like many others in this list, fungus gnat predators can be bought in nurseries or online.
Insects aren’t all bad. Many species that offer huge benefits to your gardens. That list is far longer than just the nine we’ve looked at here, but this is a good start to learning how these tiny creatures (as well as spiders). Learning to identify and even attract beneficial bugs will help your garden grow strong and beautiful!