Attract Beneficial Insects to Your Garden

comments (4) April 6th, 2009

Pin It

thumbs up 12 users recommend

When nature is in balance, youll find a mixture of good and bad insects in your garden. A close look at the underside of a cabbage leaf reveals a white-fly infestation, hover fly eggs, and a hover fly larva, in the center, getting to work on those whiteflies.
Lady beetles are beneficial, both as larvae and adults. They prey on aphids and other soft-bodied insects.
A mix of annual and perennial flowers provide alternative food sources for beneficials when prey insects are scarce.
When nature is in balance, youll find a mixture of good and bad insects in your garden. A close look at the underside of a cabbage leaf reveals a white-fly infestation, hover fly eggs, and a hover fly larva, in the center, getting to work on those whiteflies.Click To Enlarge

When nature is in balance, you'll find a mixture of good and bad insects in your garden. A close look at the underside of a cabbage leaf reveals a white-fly infestation, hover fly eggs, and a hover fly larva, in the center, getting to work on those whiteflies.

Photo: Ruth Lively

Prev 1 | 2 | 3 > View all



If you build it, they will come
We’re living in a bug-eat-bug world. And I want to keep it that way. To do so, I’ve transformed my garden into an insectary, a habitat where my beneficial insect friends will feel at home. I provide them with food, water, and shelter. I keep the soil covered with organic matter. And I avoid putting any harmful chemicals into their habitat.

The menu for beneficials changes constantly as the pest population shrinks and swells, and as different flowers come into bloom. Many of the predators and most of the parasites will use pollen and nectar for food. I try to sustain them throughout the year by growing a variety of flowers that bloom at different times. Since many of the beneficials are tiny or have short mouthparts, I offer them tiny flowers with short nectaries. Many plants in the carrot and aster families offer just that.

I water my garden with overhead sprinklers, so insects always have puddles and wet leaves to drink from. If I were using drip irrigation, I’d offer them water in a saucer filled with pebbles, so they don’t drown.

Just like the rest of us, beneficials need protection from heat and rain. They need to hide from birds and insects who would make a meal of them. Again, a variety of leafy plants offers protection. Ground beetles hide in low-growing ground covers and in mulch or leaf litter. Flying insects hide in shrubs, on the undersides of leaves, even among the petals of marigolds.

Beneficials also need a reason to stay on when they’ve finished cleaning up the crops or at the end of the season when you’ve cleaned up the garden. Consider trying to recreate in a corner of the yard or on the edge of your garden the thick, wild diversity of a hedgerow by using a variety of early-flowering shrubs, perennials, and grasses to provide year-round shelter and a place for alternative prey to dwell. Keep this beneficial insect reservoir as close to your garden as you dare. If the insects get too comfortable in the hedgerow, they might not be inclined to travel very far for a meal. As long as there is a place for pests, the beneficials may stay to eat in your weedy refuge rather than head for the neighbor’s yard.

Gardening strategies that attract beneficials
Insect allies hate dust. Keeping the soil covered at all times, either with mulch or with growing plants, conserves moisture, moderates temperatures, and eliminates dust. It also provides habitat for ground and rove beetles. Try not to eliminate every weed. Leave some for the insects.

If you use selective insecticides to rid yourself of pests, you run a very strong risk of ridding your beneficials of prey, as well, even if you’re using relatively benign products, like Bt or other biologicals. Nonselective pesticides could rid you of beneficials altogether. I believe there’s no place in an insect habitat for these chemicals. When you abandon chemical control for biocontrol, you may experience a sudden increase in pests. It may take a while for the beneficial insect population to expand to the point that you can relax your guard. In the meantime, I’d rely on less-harmful botanical and natural controls to slow down the bad guys until the good guys show up.

 
More on beneficial insects
Releasing Beneficial Insects in Your Garden
Slideshow: Beneficial Insects
Friendly Ways to Battle Garden Pests
Bring on the Beneficial Insects

Creating a habitat for wild insects is a very imprecise activity. With experimentation and observation you may hit on the right combination of insectary plants that encourages the right combination of insects for your garden. Your success will probably vary from year to year as the climate and vegetation change and new pests arrive. You should expect the development of a habitat where pests and beneficials exist in a rough balance to be an effort of several years rather than a season or two. Despite the presence of so many beneficials in our garden, I still find myself from time to time having to hand-pick squash bugs or rub scale from the branches of the fruit trees.

Prev 1 | 2 | 3 > View all

posted in: beneficial insects

Comments (4)

DeanFields writes: Truly amazing
Posted: 1:17 am on July 2nd
WillieWebster writes: Impressive :-)
Posted: 5:30 am on June 30th
JanFields writes: Thanks for sharing
Posted: 2:04 am on June 30th
erichawkins writes: now I am getting why my plants got effected
Posted: 5:45 am on May 23rd
Log in or create a free account to post a comment.