Attracting Beneficial Insects
Why Should I Want to Attract Insects to My Garden?
Some may ask why anyone would want to attract any insects to their garden. Well, the fact is that insects are absolutely necessary for two very good reasons:
First, insects are needed for good pollination. Wind can pollinate, and breeders can isolate certain plants and pollinate with small paint brushes; but, gardeners need insects for good pollination.
Second, insects help maintain nature's balance in the garden. Simply put, beneficial insects eat or kill plant destroying insects. And, given a food source, plant destroying insects will show up.
For almost all garden plants, the ideal soil has a good combination of sand, silt, and clay particles. The geometry of the sand components provides spaces for water absorption and drainage, while the clay and silt components hold some moisture which is necessary for both your plants and for the organic components of your soil.
How to Attract Beneficial Insects
(Three Do's and One Don't)
1. Provide early flowering plants. Consider planting an insectary near or within the garden to attract beneficial insects. Cluster flowering plants, like yarrow, dill, fennel, and wild carrots are particularly good at attracting parasitic wasps. Composite flowers, like zinnias and sunflowers will attract robber flies and predatory wasps. Low growing herbs, like thyme and oregano give ground beetles cover for hiding. And, praying mantises like to hide in plants as well. Your goal should be to always have something in bloom. And, relatively large blocks of one color flower can be very attractive to bees.
2. You can also provide housing for mason bees by drilling holes into wood near the garden, by placing a bunch of drinking straws in a coffee can and mounting it horizontally in some protected area, or you can purchase inexpensive mason bee houses.
3. Provide water, especially during dry spells. Beneficials, like all insects, need water and will fly to other sources if you don't provide some. Simply add a few saucers of water, perhaps protected by a decorative cluster of rocks. Of course, large pools of stagnant water can also provide a breeding haven for mosquitoes, so don't overdo it.
4. Don't use non-selective insecticides to kill the bad bugs, or you'll kill the good bugs as well. If you observe a large infestation of bad bugs and virtually no beneficial insects, you may want to carefully use a non-chemical product like Bull's-Eye™ Bioinsecticide from Gardens Alive!® to control the plant damaging insects. According to the manufacturer, Bull's Eye will not significantly harm most beneficial insects.
Some of the More Popular Beneficial Insects
Known as ladybirds in the UK, Australia and New Zealand, scientists prefer to call them ladybird beetles or lady beetles, as these are not "true bugs." True bugs are identified as those that have particular mouth parts that enable them to puncture tissue and suck fluid … aphids, for example, are true bugs.
Lady beetles are voracious eaters of aphids, scale insects, mealybugs, and mites. They can be yellow, orange, or red, with black dots, and they're particularly attracted to early pollen sources, like mustard, coriander, buckwheat, coreopsis, dandelions, and scented geraniums.
Asian Ladybeetles (Japanese Ladybugs)
Considered by many as a nuisance, because they like to move inside over the winter, Asian ladybeetles leave a stain and an unpleasant odor when frightened or squashed. They have been known to bite humans, and are more aggressive that the more lovable lady beetle. But, by definition, they are true beneficial insects. Asian Ladybeetles can be identified by a distinctive dark W or M on their heads.
Praying Mantis or Preying Mantis
The famous Praying Mantis – after whom our most famous product was named (for its shape, not its behavior) - will only eat meat that it has captured itself. True carnivores, they are completely harmless to plants. They have a voracious appetite, especially the young newly hatched nymphs. They'll eat ahpids, but will also eat anything, including beneficial insects, siblings, and even their own mates.
It was once rumored to be illegal to kill a praying mantis; that's not true; but, it's not a good thing either.
Also known as leatherwings because of their soft, cloth like wing covers, soldier beetles are very beneficial because they eat damaging insects (including caterpillers, insect eggs, aphids, and other soft bodied insects) without attacking plant foliage. They are soft bodied insects that resemble lightning bugs.
While adult lacewings don't kill pest insects, their offspring will. Lacewings eat nectar and lay their eggs on plant foliage; the emerging larva are voracious aphid eaters, capable of consuming over 200 pests or pest eggs per week!
Beneficial or Bad Bug?
If you're not sure what king of "bug" you have, take some time to observe what's going in its environment. If you have significant plant damage, you're likely to have harmful insects. If not, you may be blessed with a "beneficial insect" that is working to consume the bad bugs in your garden.
For more helpful tips, read our Seasonal Gardening Tips