Attracting beneficial insects in the garden is a great way to avoid the use of dangerous pesticides and create a bio-diverse and thriving environment.
It's important to remember that seeing a few "bad" bugs is not a bad thing.
In fact, a balance of beneficial and harmful insects is important to the balance in your garden. And if you don't have enough harmful bugs, your beneficials won't hang around long!
Click here to learn more about Organic Gardening Pest Control and read below for a list of the commonly known "good" insects in the garden, what they prey on and what will attract them into your yard.
Assassin bugs may be the creepiest looking insects in the garden, but their speedy front legs, aggression and appetite also make them a favorite. They eat just about anything and have even been known to attack non-insect creatures.
Some common meals for the assassin bug include:
Because these little guys can't be purchased, you'll need to rely on attracting these beneficial insects. They tend to favor smaller flowers that are easier to reach into, so stick with things like: Queen Anne's Lace, daisy varieties, oleander (careful: this one is poisonous if ingested by kids or pets), fennel, alfalfa, camphorweed, goldenrod, dill, etc. Properly mulching also helps to keep these garden insects in the garden.
Beneficial nematodes are a microscopic, worm-like organism that will go to work on almost all pests. Often referred to as a biological insecticide, they will target your "bad" ugs but can also (although don't often) go after your beneficials, as well.
They commonly eat:
Attracting beneficial nematodes can be tough. You may need to start out by purchasing your first round to introduce them to your garden and them encourage their multiplication with the use of plenty of compost, mulch and biodiversity. Planting Tagetes or a cover crop may also attract these garden helpers.
Big-eyed bugs make fantastic insects in the garden. Similar looking to the Minute Pirate Bug, they live longer than most other beneficials, and lay eggs most of their lives, averaging two or more every single day. They are also more tolerate to imbalanced conditions, search soil and plant surfaces for prey and have voracious appetites. They will also eat nectar and honeydew when their prey is scarce.
A large part of their diet consists of:
Attract big-eyed bugs into your yard and garden with the following plants: caraway, cosmos, fennel, alfalfa, spearmint, goldenrod, and marigold.
Damsel bugs are similar to mantis in both the way they eat and their non-discriminatory appetite. They will eat any insect smaller than them, and if they can't find anything else they will even cannibalize each other.
Common prey of the damsel bug includes:
Damsel bugs are attracted by the following: caraway, cosmos, fennel, spearmint, goldenrod and marigold. They will overwinter in groundcovers, such as alfalfa; supplying this will help them come back year after year.
Only the lacewing larvae are predatory on other insects in the garden. The adults actually survive on pollen and nectar. They will also turn cannibalistic is no food source is around. Creating habitat for them (below) will help the adults set up house in your yard and have lots of hungry babies.
Lacewing larvae generally eat the following:
Lacewing habitat can be created with the following: Angelica, carraway, coriander, cosmos (white sensation), dandelion, dill, fennel, Four-wing saltbush, Golden marguerite, Prairie sunflower, Purple poppy mallow, Queen Anne's lace, tansy, and yarrow (fern-leaf).
Ladybugs are probably the favorite among beneficial insects in the garden, and at least the most well-known. However, they may not be the best. They are slow to reproduce and will only lay large numbers of eggs when there is enough prey to support them. Even in larvae stage they eat a tremendous amount of pests, but are more vulnerable to their predators, the ants.
Ladybugs commonly eat:
Attracting and creating habitat for ladybugs can be done with many plants and varieties: Basket of Gold, buckwheat, butterfly weed, carpet bugleweed, cinquefoil (Apline and Sulfur), coriander, dandelion, dill, fennel, four-winged saltbush, Golden marguerite, hairy vetch, marigold, Prairie sunflower, Queen Anne's lace, Rocky Mt. penstemon, tansy, and yarrow (common and fern-leaf).
Fly parasites are actually small parasitic wasps. They do not bother adults, children or animals but instead target flies and lay their eggs inside the pest (once hatched the fly parasite larvae consumes the insect).
It's diet is more limited than others, but it's very effective if you have farm animals or manure:
Plants that attract and creat habitat for fly parasites include: buckwheat, Golden marguerite, lemon balm, parlsey, pennyroyal, Phacelia, Tansy, and thyme (crimson).
Both adult and larval stages of this insect are beneficial. The larvae can actually resemble the mealybug, their prey, another reason to avoid non-descriminatory pesticides when dealing with damaging insects in the garden.
The prey of the mealybug destroyer includes:
The following plants make good habitat for mealybug destroyers: fennel, dill, angelica, tansy, goldenrod, coreopsis, sunflower, and yarrow.
Minute pirate bugs are both predatory and will eat pollen and plant juices when prey is not available.
Both adults and nymphs will feed on the following:
The following plants are great for attracting these beneficial insects: alfalfa, caraway, cosmos (white sensation), fennel, marigold (lemon gem), Peter Pan goldenrod and spearmint.
Praying mantis has a longer life cycle than most other beneficials, which is great for your garden. However, because they don't deposit their eggs until they are 5-6 months, it can be very difficult to keep them around, as few will live that long due to normal conditions or predators.
It is non-discriminatory in its diet, eating most insects, including other beneficial insects in the garden and even its own kind. Just some of its diet may consist of:
Attracting such beneficial insects as the praying mantis can be difficult, but you may have luck with the following: cosmos, raspberry, flowering shrubs, hazel shrubs and pine. I would also suggest plenty of organic matter (compost) and mulch to support their needs.
These ominous little beetles are actually related to fireflies (but are unable to produce light). Both the larvae and adults are predatory, although the larvae tend to not live often on plants.
They usually prey on:
Because adults will supplement their diet with pollen, these help to attract soldier beetles: goldenrod, hydrangea, milkweed, and wildlettuce
Most people tend to think of spiders as "bad" insects in the garden, but in fact, most are beneficial in eating insects and rarely bite humans. The two to be wary of are the brown recluse and black widow spider. Some spiders will only eat insects trapped intheir web, but others, such as jumping spiders and wolf spiders, will hunt prey in the garden as well.
Spiders commonly eat:
It's pretty rare that you'll need to do much to attract spiders. As long as the environment isn't sterile and pesticides aren't being used you'll soon find them in your garden. Beware of wood piles and othr dark hiding places which can harbor black widows.
Wasps are often wrongly acccused of being dangerous. However, many wasps you'll find in your garden are actually beneficial and prey on moth eggs and larvae. Trichogramma wasps are the most beneficial and completely harmless, being tiny (about 1 millimeter) and stingless.
Common prey of beneficial wasps:
Attracting beneficial wasps can be done with the following: alyssum (white), caraway, cinquefoil (sulfur and apline), dill, edging lobelia, golden marguerite, lavendar globe lily, lemon balm, masterwort, orange, parsley, pennyroyal, purple poppy mallow, and yarrow (fern-leaf and common).
It's not only beneficial insects in the garden that you can attract. Other animals are equally important to creating a balanced and healthy eco-system.
Animals such as lizards, toads and frogs, backyard birds will all help to keep insects in the garden in check and add to the health of your soil.
Creating habitat for these creatures will help control roly polys, flies, roaches and most of the same "bad" insects mentioned above.
To attract or create habitat for these small animals, be sure to include a reliable water source, birdhouses or rock piles for amphibians and reptiles and a chemical-free environment.
Learn to attract and care for the insects in the garden will help you to create a diverse and thriving environment in your own backyard. Continue your efforts with the following articles:
Whatever step you take, remember to have fun!
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