Beneficial Insects to Boost Your Plants’ Health
Not all insects are pests; some are actually good for the garden. Some bugs prey on invading parasites while enhancing the health of the plant or soil. Beneficial bugs are also an essential part of biological control; these insects could repel pests by using other organisms. By attracting beneficial bugs to your garden, infestations are avoided along with the spread of plant diseases.
In this guide, we are listing down some of the best bugs to keep in your garden as well as strategies to attract beneficial insects in the garden:
Don't let their colorful appearance fool you, ladybugs are predatory insects that will hunt many destructive insects including aphids, whiteflies, and Colorado potato beetles. Ladybugs are beneficial as a larva and as an adult. These insects have a weakness for soft-bodied insects. A mature ladybug could eat as many as 50 aphids in a day!
The problem with ladybugs is that these are flighty creatures; it's hard to get them to stay in the garden. But if you managed to make ladybugs stay in your garden and they laid eggs, the hatched larvae will consume 400 aphids before they enter the pupal stage! If you have a hard time attracting ladybugs, you could buy several at the local garden center and release them into your garden.
If your garden has a serious slug problem then here's one insect that will get rid of these pests in no time at all: ground beetles. Although ground beetles could fly, these insects prefer to stay on the ground, hiding in plain sight.
As nocturnal hunters, ground beetles would scour leaf litter looking for slugs, insect eggs, and larvae night after night. Thankfully, ground beetles are perpetually hungry so they will eat their way into any slug problem with gusto. Apart from slugs, ground beetles love noshing on caterpillars, aphids, and Colorado cutworms.
Green Lacewings are distinct for their slim bodies and delicate wings. Although lacewings are often found gliding silently in the garden looking for pollen or nectar, they are actually aggressive insect hunters during their larval stage. Lacewing larvae would devour all sort of garden pests including aphids, caterpillars, mealybugs, leafhoppers, and whiteflies. These critters would also hunt down insect eggs.
The fun does not stop there; these predatory insects are not above eating other lacewings. Just like ladybugs, green lacewings are flighty creatures and getting them to stay in your garden is a challenge. You could coax these beneficial bugs to take up residence by growing flowering plants. You could also buy green lacewings at the nearest garden center, release them in your garden, and hope that they will stay put throughout their lifetime.
With their striped yellow and black striped bodies, you might mistake hoverflies for honeybees or tiny wasps at first glance. You know they're hoverflies because their movements are similar to that of normal houseflies. As the name implies, hoverflies would zip around and hover over plants before helping themselves on some nectar and pollen!
These insects are voracious hunters the second they are hatched. The larvae could consume over 60 aphids in a day. Hoverflies love soft-bodied insects and they would lay their eggs near aphids and other preys. If you managed to build an established population of larvae, these critters could control up to 80% of an aphid infestation. Hoverflies are so good at keeping aphids at bay, they rival lacewings and ladybugs.
Adult damsel bugs have narrow heads and dull gray to brown, elongated bodies. Mature damsel bugs have wings while nymphs look like adult damsel bugs but they do not have wings. These bugs love slow moving preys and are quite fond of aphids, leafhoppers, plant bugs, thrips, and small caterpillars.
Damsel bugs feast on destructive pests but they leave plants unharmed. These critters are often found in unsprayed alfalfa fields but you could attract them by growing ornamental grasses. If your yard or garden does not have damsel bugs, you could simply collect these bugs in grassy meadows and release them in your garden or vegetable patch.
Braconid wasps are a type of light-colored winged critters that could repel pests in your garden or yard. Depending on the species of Braconid wasps that live in the garden, these critters would attack common garden pests, particularly caterpillars, weevils, and aphids. Their maggot-like larvae would feed on a host from the inside while the adults consume flower nectar and pollen. Braconid wasps may look sinister at a glance but they are completely harmless to human beings.
A female braconid wasp could lay 50 to 200 eggs and once hatched, the younglings would quickly find a host to feast on. You could attract braconid wasps into your garden by growing a variety of flowering plants that produce a lot of nectar. Sweet alyssum, chamomile, feverfew, catnip, and buckwheat are some of the many plants that attract these critters.
Got a severe aphid infestation? The Aphidium colemani is a special breed of braconid wasp that specializes in parasitizing aphids. It could be purchased at a local greenhouse. The Aphidium colemani is often used to contain a widespread aphid problem without using chemical insecticides.
Minute Pirate Bugs
Minute pirate bugs are a type of predatory insect that feed on aphids, spider mites, and thrips. These bugs are so good at controlling pests that they are often used to deter pests in large greenhouses! An adult pirate bug could feast on as many as 20 thrips larvae in a single day. That might not sound incredible but these bugs are quite tiny, about one-fifth of an inch long. Do not let the size fool you though. Pirate bugs will move quickly to eliminate preys.
Pirate nymphs and adult bugs prey on common garden pests. Although these critters would sometimes suck plant sap, the damage they do is minimal. Growing some of the pirate bugs' favorite flowers and herbs is the best way to attract these predatory insects. They love alfalfa, marigold, fennel, and spearmint, just to name a few.
As larvae and adult, soldier beetles are beneficial to the garden. In their larval stage, soldier beetles will feast on cucumber beetles, corn rootworms, aphids, grasshopper eggs, caterpillars, and beetle larvae. As they grow into adulthood, soldier beetle will feed on nectar and then lay eggs. Once the larvae hatch, the cycle repeats itself, ridding the yard or the garden of destructive insects.
Soldier beetles are drawn to bright flowers and are quite hardworking pollinators. You could attract more soldier beetles into your garden by growing marigold, zinnia, golden rod, and other flowering plants. These bugs are quite harmless to human beings. They do not bite nor nibble at plants.
Tips on Attracting Beneficial Bugs in the Garden
Learn the Difference between Beneficial and Harmful Insects
It’s hard to tell if an insect is beneficial or harmful to the garden unless you are a seasoned grower. Our advice is to learn everything that you should know about telling these critters apart. Apart from ridding the garden of pests, most of the predatory bugs that we’ve outlined above are hardworking pollinators so studying up will do wonders for the garden.
All insects are drawn to shady areas that are near a water source. If you want to attract beneficial bugs and make them stay for good, offer some shelter and drinking water. Nocturnal hunters need hiding places, like dense foliage, during the day. A plate of clean water with flat stones in the center (above water) is a terrific way to hydrate your garden helpers! Just be sure to change the water every day so you don’t attract mosquitoes.
Companion planting could increase your yield, improve the health of your garden, and yes, attract beneficial insects. Some beneficial bugs are drawn to certain plants. Lacewings and braconid wasps, for example, love dill and bright, colorful flowers.
Grow Different Plants
Growing different plants and setting these plants near one another is a great way to lure beneficial insects. The plant foliage serves as a shelter from the heat while the nectar and dew nourish tired pollinators. Beneficial insects could also lay eggs on the plant leaves or use the foliage to hide in the presence of predators.
Use Natural Pest Solutions
Pesticides and insecticides do not discriminate; these products kill all types of garden insects including the beneficial kinds. Keep your garden as insect-friendly as possible by using natural solutions to control pests. But if you must use insecticides, opt for selective products that target a specific species while leaving other bugs safe.
Attracting beneficial insects will do wonders for the health of your garden. Keep all these tips in mind and see the population of beneficial insects in your garden rise. Tune in for more gardening tips and helpful resources by subscribing to our newsletter.
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