Garden Guide to Beneficial Insects

Gardening season has returned and with it a plethora of insects. Knowing which insects are harmful and which are helpful will go a long way in controlling the pest population in your garden. Plus, utilizing natural predators of bad bugs will reduce or eliminate your need for chemical pesticides. This is a simple garden guide to beneficial insects. 

Welcome Beneficial Insects

Ladybugs

Lady_Bug_(2738238274) Image By Harald Hoyer from Schwerin, Germany (Lady Bug Uploaded by russavia) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Adult ladybugs will happily eat any aphids, mealybugs or mites that are intruding on your garden. You might be surprised to learn that lady beetle larvae do more damage to the pest population; they love to eat soft bodied pests, especially aphids.   To attract these beneficial insects to your garden, plant something they can’t resist like dill, fennel, yarrow or angelica. Can’t wait for them to show up naturally? You can purchase ladybugs, but there’s a few tricks to making them stay once you release them. You want to release them at night, into a wet garden that has aphids for them and their larvae to eat. If you release them during the day, into a dry garden, or a garden with no food, they will fly away. Ladybug larvae might be mistaken for another pest, so be sure to make yourself familiar with their appearance so you don’t harm them. 

Lacewings

The angelica that you plant for your lady beetles will also attract lacewings – another beneficial bug – to your garden. Adult lacewings feed mostly on flower nectar, but their larvae will decimate the number of aphids, thrips, mites, small caterpillars, moth eggs, and even hornworms in your garden. Green lacewing larvae  Green_lacewing_larva (1)

Spined soldier bugs

 In my house we call them stink bugs, but as it turns out spined soldier bugs have a slightly more intimidating name. Spined soldier bugs are generalist predators that attack and eat over 90 species of insects, including Mexican bean beetles, corn earworms and cabbage loopers. These voracious predators inject their prey with a substance that paralyzes them within 60 seconds, then suck the pest insect dry. To attract these effective predators to your garden, forgo the toxic pesticides that are more likely to kill beneficial bugs than pests.

Recognize Harmful Insects

Hornworms

1200px-Hornworm01_ST_10 Photo by Ester Inbar, available from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:ST. [Attribution], via Wikimedia Commons 

Hornworms are the bane of my existence every year, and they’re found in almost every region of the US. These green caterpillars will destroy your tomato crop in record time. They also feed on eggplant, peppers and potatoes. Their color allows them to blend into a garden’s surroundings with ease, disappearing into the foliage where they munch on plants non-stop.

Controlling the hornworm population requires diligence, so you should get used to doing daily inspections. Check the underside of leaves where hornworms like to hangout. Tilling the soil at the beginning and end of the gardening season will destroy overwintering larvae and can cause up to 90% mortality. Female braconid wasps lay eggs on or under the skin of hornworms. As the eggs hatch, they eat the hornworm from the inside, chewing their way out through the skin as they mature. You can tell if a hornworm has wasp eggs on it, because it will be carrying a cluster of white eggs. Leave this hornworm alone, not only are they carrying the instrument of their own death but these wasps will eat other hornworms once hatched. These adult wasps are very small and pose no threat to humans because they don’t sting.

Thrips

Thrips_tabaci,_Frankliniella_occidentalis Photo By Alton N. Sparks, Jr., University of Georgia, Bugwood.org [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

These pests multiply quickly and swarm heavily in areas with crops, making them a major threat to agricultural communities. Thrips damage plants by sucking from them and scraping flowers, fruits and leaves, leaving plants scarred and discolored.

Final Thoughts

Get to know the bugs in your garden. While some are destructive, others can be beneficial. Grow plants that attract lady bugs, bees and butterflies. They help pollinate your plants so your garden thrives. It’s also great to look for natural pest repellent if you’re growing an edible garden. 

Ali Lawrence is a tea-sipping writer who focuses on healthy and sustainable living via her family blog Homey Improvements. She was born and raised in Alaska and dabbles in Pilates and is a princess for hire for kid’s parties.
Ali

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Ali Lawrence is a tea-sipping writer who focuses on healthy and sustainable living via her family blog Homey Improvements. She was born and raised in Alaska and dabbles in Pilates and is a princess for hire for kid’s parties.

Author: Ali Lawrence

Ali Lawrence is a tea-sipping writer who focuses on healthy and sustainable living via her family blog Homey Improvements. She was born and raised in Alaska and dabbles in Pilates and is a princess for hire for kid’s parties.

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6 Comments

  1. Great pic of lacewing larvae. I always see the adults and wondered what they ate. Good info!

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    • Thanks so much Jenny! It’s great to have visuals for garden pests, no doubt. 🙂

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    • Awesome! Thanks so much Marci. I’ll head over to your blog and check it out too. 🙂

      Post a Reply
  2. This is a great post! I’ve chosen it as my featured post this week at Green Thumb Thursday. Stop over and grab a featured badge for your blog!

    Thanks so much for linking up!

    Lisa

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