Maybe you’ve been to a plant or garden conference. And if you have, you might have heard a talk delivered by an entomologist. Bug Guys, I call them. Although I’m sure there are Bug Gals, too, I’ve only heard talks from the Guys. For such a long time I thought plant folk were the most passionate about their topic; I stand corrected in that these bug-guys are reallyreallyreally into theirs. It’s hard to not get excited about bugs when you hear a BG talk (abbreviation for gender neutrality) and the slide shows–even the videos–are better than a good sci-fi, so long as you’ve had your breakfast first. Your garden beds are full of bugs–so you might as well get to know them — how they are among your biggest garden allies and how working with them can reduce your need for any kind of insecticidal spray to pretty much zero. Inviting beneficial insects will improve the health of your garden, yourself, and your community.
I hope you have had your breakfast. If you’ve never seen praying mantis in action, it is an amazing sight. I’ve seen a mantis pull a moth right from the air, rip its wings off and have a meal. Sadly, the mantis does not discriminate against insects: it eats the good garden bugs and the bad. In my previous garden I once had an invasion of Oriental Beetles. I am not exaggerating that within a week, the problem insects were gone, the mantids ate every single one. Like chameleons, they blend to match an ornamental grass or a leafy shrub. They are also cannibals and the female will sometimes eat a male even during the mating process. The National Geographic website says, “this… seems not to deter males from reproduction.” Geesh. Talk about taking one for the team…
Braconid wasp. The female will inject her eggs inside the body of the host caterpilllar or other pest insects and as the baby wasps develop, they eat the host insect from the inside out….eeeewww. The host dies when the wasp larvae fully develop.
Ground beetles. Your garden needs protection on the soil line as much as in the branching. Ground beetles eat slugs, cutworms, and other caterpillars. One ground beetle larva can eat more than 50 caterpillars.
Lacewings. The prettiest of insects, in my book, and they eat thrips, whiteflies, aphids, mealybugs, You will easily identify these graceful insects., slightly green with wings that seem disproportionate to their small bodies.
And finally, Lady Beetles. Adult beetles eat aphids, mites and mealybugs and their larvae, who look like tiny black and red alligators, eat even more variety of pest insects.
What should you plant? As I usually recommend, a variety of garden plants that provide a layer in the garden–large trees, small trees, large and small shrubs, perennials and ground covers. Be sure to include plants with umbel flowers–Dill and Fennel. Cosmos and Sweet Alyssum attract lacewings. Yarrow, Daisies and Echinacea are also good choices. Soldier Beetles like Goldenrod and Hydrangea.
Beneficial insects, from what I’ve learned from the BGs, do not eat other insects at all stages of their life cycle; sometimes they eat pollen and yes, sometimes they nibble on leaves. This doesn’t mean you should get out the full arsenal of sprays every time you see some holes in the leaves. Take a closer look at your plants to see what else you see. If the plants are over-all in good health, most of the time you don’t need to do anything. If you see an aphid invasion– and there do seem to be more aphids and mites in dry weather which we’ve sure had lately– most often a hard stream from the hose will take care of the aphids or some insecticidal soap spray. I understand sometimes you just can’t wait for the lady beetles to come to your defense when a plant is coated in aphids.
Why does a garden designer care about this? Because a healthy garden is a beautiful garden and inviting these insect friends helps make looking good a whole lot easier.
Information for the above from Rodale’s Organic Life webpage on Beneficial Insects.