Not all insects are pests. Sure, mosquitoes are annoying and some carry disease, and no one wants flies buzzing around their ears, but most insects are innocuous and some are downright beneficial.
When it comes to the garden, pests such as aphids, mites, root maggots, and grubs can wreck havoc with some plants. On the other hand, others, such as lady bugs, praying mantis, and green lacewing, help control the balance of the garden and allow the plants to flourish.
“Good” and “Bad” Insects
We’ve all heard of the food chain, and, unless you have abused chemical additives and sprays, it’s alive and well in your garden, doing its job to maintain a healthy balance. This includes insects that eat others.
The mayhem bad pests can create includes big chunks of leaves eaten away, sticky white coverings on leaves and stems, whole plants withering and others dying almost overnight.
Praying mantis are predatory insects that eat a wide variety of smaller ones and are usually considered helpful in a garden. Lady bugs feed on aphids and other small insects but are not reliable as they tend to fly from garden to garden.
Green lacewing feed on aphids and mites and other insect eggs and are considered very useful in backyard gardens. Predator mites eat other mites, many of which are destructive. Whitefly parasites are tiny wasps that lay their eggs on top of the larvae of greenhouse flies.
Tiny trichogramma wasps destroy the eggs of hundreds of pests, including borers, webworms, and moth caterpillars. Parasitic nematodes are minuscule worms that eat pests that live in the soil, including grubs, webworms and weevils.
Many of these insects can be bought at garden centers.
How to Attract Insects
If you make your garden insect friendly, all insects, good and bad, will creep or fly over the welcome mat, but this is not a bad thing. The good bugs will keep the destructive ones in check.
To attract insects, plant a good variety of plants. Different insects like short or tall plants, broad leaves or spiky plants. Flowers attract beneficial insects that like pollen, so plant some flowers near the vegetable beds. They look pretty, too!
Specific plants attract friendly insects. These include alyssum, nasturtiums, yarrow, butterfly weed, clover, and marigolds, to name a few.
Do not spray for weeds or pests more often than absolutely necessary. Some toxic sprays kill indiscriminately and so it’s wise to use a spray, if you must, that targets a specific group of pests.
Understanding how the garden grows includes welcoming the living creatures that depend on the plants. Like everything in nature, a good balance usually is best achieved with minimal human tampering.