Organic gardening is all about using nature to help nature. Insects are not all bad. Some insects have bad reputations – think wasps, brown recluse spiders, and army ants. And some insects are very destructive in the garden. Aphids, caterpillar loppers, and mites all enjoy eating the foliage on your vegetable plants.
But many insects are a gardener’s best friend. Beneficial insects are those that eat other insects that are garden pests. These beneficial insects help clean up your garden and keep your plants healthy. Many beneficial insects are already in your environment. You can encourage them to stay by planting plants that attract their food choices and provide supplemental food. Pollen and nectar-rich flowers will provide you with a pretty landscape and a welcoming home for beneficial insects.
That beautiful damsel, the ladybug, is a voracious eater of aphids, mites, and thrips that suck the life out of your plants. Ladybugs or more accurately lady beetles can eat 5000 aphids in their lifetime. Both the ladybug larvae and the adults are beneficial. Lady beetles will fly away if the food source is scarce so plantings of yarrow, Queen Anne’s lace, butterfly weed and penstemon can help you provide a friendly habitat that encourages them to stay.
Lacewings also eat aphids, leafhoppers, and larvae of other insects. The larvae which are called aphid lions are the stage you want to encourage. The adults tend to eat more pollen and nectar then the larvae. Lacewings are benefited by planting dill, coriander, Queen Anne’s lace, and yarrow. Lacewings are not as mobile as lady beetles and easier to keep around.
Hunter supreme the Praying Mantis eats a variety of pests including other insects, caterpillars, and beetles. The mantis, or the more scientific term Mantid, likes to blend into their surroundings so tall grasses and small shrubs around the garden provide a good home. They also like to live in plants in the rose and raspberry families.
Pesticides, even organic ones, are not safe around many beneficial insects. Pesticides cannot discern if an insect is a good or a bad bug in your garden. It is designed to kill the insect. So even an organic pesticide such as Bacillus thuringiensis (BT) or Neem Oil will kill beneficial insects. Your goal should be to produce an environment that encourages beneficial insects and biodiversity and enjoy the true benefits or organic gardening!
So, remember in your garden this year to plant for those beneficial bugs, mix in a few plants and flowers that entice and encourage the insects you need to help you keep your garden healthy. Many beneficial insects are already in your environment but if they aren’t you can bring them in and your thoughtful planting will keep them there. Have a wonderful “bug” year!