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Attracting Beneficial Insects to Your Garden: Nature’s Pest Control

June 26, 2024

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Attracting Beneficial Insects to Your Garden: Nature’s Pest Control

Unleashing Nature’s Superheroes

Last year, my husband came home in a panic about the bugs all over our plum tree. We only have room for one fruit tree, so any chance that we may not get to eat all those amazing Italian prune plums is reason to panic. But I was aware of these bugs – aphids – and I had actually been allowing them to multiply in my very own little aphid nursery. Why on earth would I ever WANT aphids, the tiny soft-bodied flies that suck all the precious juices from your plants? Well, because they attract beneficial insects to the garden!

I was growing food for the good bugs. Setting up an area of your garden or a plant placed somewhere strategically where pests are allowed will help to attract beneficial insects such as ladybugs, spiders, hoverflies, and parasitic wasps to find their way to your garden. I plant a few Shasta daisies for black aphids and lupines for green aphids around the garden as ground nurseries because aphids love them. A colony of the little monsters will cover those flowers, and in no time, the whole garden is being trolled by aphid hunters.

This is particularly helpful near my lettuce garden as the parasitic wasps and hoverflies zip in and between the lettuce leaves, effectively cleaning my greens before I even pick them. The aphids on my plum tree, however, don’t even get a chance to touch a leaf of plum because once the ladybug eggs hatch, it’s covered with alligator-like larvae that can eat hundreds of aphids a day. By the time they pupate and become the beetles we are all familiar with, they have spit-shined my plum tree without a sign of a pest. And of course, my plum would never even set fruit if it wasn’t for pollinators, so I make sure there are lots of flowers for the bees as well.

Feeding Your Garden’s Helpers

Beneficial insects, like any living creature, need a few key things to thrive in your garden. The main things they require are nectar, pollen, and a steady supply of their prey (the pests you want to get rid of).

Nectar: The Sweet Fuel

Nectar provides beneficial insects with sugar, which is their primary source of energy. Some great nectar-rich plants to add to your garden include:

  • Carrots
  • Fennel
  • Alyssum

Plant these and let them bloom to keep your garden’s superheroes well-fed and ready for action.

Pollen: Protein for the Protectors

Pollen provides the protein that beneficial insects need to survive and reproduce. Focus on planting members of the Asteraceae family of plants, such as:

  • Asters
  • Daisies
  • Echinacea

These pollen-rich flowers will give your garden’s defenders the nourishment they require.

Prey: Sustenance for the Hunters

Certain “trap plants” will attract the pests that your beneficial insects feed on, providing them with a steady food source. Some examples include:

  • Nasturtiums
  • Lupines
  • Shasta daisies

By creating these pest-attracting hubs, you’re essentially setting up a buffet for your garden’s natural pest control team.

Teamwork Makes the Dream Work

The lesson here in organic gardening is to do what you can to help nature take care of the problem. Plant flowers for pollinators, start an aphid nursery, and give beneficial insects a few extra weeks to arrive before you attack pests on your plants. If it becomes a fight and you’re not winning, then perhaps it’s time to consider making a change to what and where you plant.

Gardening should be about nurturing, not napalm. I’m curious why you think earwigs are beneficial insects. They eat the heck out of my plants every year! They, along with wonderful slugs, survive through our snowy winters in Southwest Colorado.

Well, D, not every bug is clearly bad or good. Earwigs are predatory and eat lots of aphids, mites, slugs, and insects’ eggs. They are also great at helping clean up and break down garden soil. So, it’s a balance. If they are doing more damage than good, then trap and remove them to bring down the population. Ideally, you would have some of them, but not enough to damage the plants past repair. A high number is not an earwig infestation per se, as much as an earwig predator deficiency that will help to keep the population in control for you.

The Intricate Web of Nature

This is a wonderful article; it’s great to see posts regarding the positive roles of these pests in the garden and the wider environment. Invertebrates are struggling so much with climate change and really underpin so many important natural processes in the world, providing food for many other animals.

I see you refer to aphids as “bugs,” and I thought you might be interested to know that, while you’re right to be cautious of the term in application to any insect, aphids do actually belong to the true bugs of the insect world – the needle-nosed, sap-sucking order Hemiptera. Many plant pests are in this group. Yes, it’s a tricky one because “bug” is used as the common word for the grouping of many critters, including spiders and mosquitoes. Just like “vegetable” is used for foods that are technically a fruit, like pumpkins and tomatoes.

Thankfully, these discussions help us get to know our garden friends even better. And who knows, maybe one day you’ll be setting up your own little aphid nursery to attract the beneficial insects that will keep your garden thriving – all without the need for harsh chemicals. After all, as they say on the Thornapple CSA website, “Gardening should be about nurturing, not napalm.”

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