Beneficial insects – what they are and how to get them!
Spring is fast approaching and the bugs are starting to come back into my garden as well as my clients’ gardens now they are spray-free zones.
Beneficial bugs do wonders for our plants. Sadly, many people falsely believe that all bugs are bad and need to be destroyed! So, here’s a little bit of information about the good guys in the garden. I’m focussing particularly on predatory bugs here- the ones that eat the bad guys!
What are beneficial insects?
You can separate bugs into two groups. Bad bugs eat your plants and cause disease. Good bugs, or beneficial insects, eat the bad bugs and pollinate your plants, which gives you more fruit.
Beneficial insects are great to have around as they take care of most of your disease and insect problems.
Here are few common bugs you want to have around. I’ve added links to good photos of these insects if you’re not sure what they look like.
- Hoverflies are important pollinators in the garden and excellent predators of aphids. Often mistaken for bees or wasps.
- Lace Wing larvae are predators for a wide range of pests including aphids, moth eggs and small larvae, scale and whiteflies.
Ladybugs are already emerging up here in the mountains. It’s important to be able to tell the good from the bad.
- The common ladybug (or orange ladybug) adults and larvae feed on wide range of aphids but also feed on mites, moths eggs and small larvae.
- The fungus–eating ladybird is also found on plants with fungal problems like powdery mildew on cucurbits (cucumber, pumpkin etc.)
Note: There is another ladybug commonly known as the 28 spotted ladybug but that is a bad bug and feeds on plants. You don’t want this one!
Creating the right environment
Now you know who they are, you’ll need somewhere for the beneficial insects to live. Start planting lots of ground covers and flowers around your food crops. I like to plant marigolds, zinnias, parsley, lavender, allysum and coneflowers among other annuals and perennials.
Tall growing flowers like coneflowers and zinnias look great, cut well, and are popular with bees (and wives). However, because they are tall, they can shade out low-growing vegetables so be careful where you plant them. Better choices for near vegie patches are low-growing white clover or allysum. Letting your vegetables and herbs go to flower will also attract many beneficial bugs.
I’ll be making a beneficial bug seed mix to sell at my market stall in Spring. Contact me if you’d like to order ahead.
Rocks and twigs are also good places for bugs to take refuge on cold nights. I’ll be making some bug hotels in the next couple of weeks and will post pics and instructions on the blog.
Remember: if you spray plants with anything (organic or not) then you are going risk harming the beneficial insects as well as killing off their food supply. If you wait, the good bugs will come….trust me. I tried it myself.
My bug experiment
Last year, our early rose growth was covered in thrip. This is very normal in Spring, since thrip love to suck the moisture from new growth. Unfortunately, their sucking affects buds on the roses and can kill early flower buds. It’s not fatal to the plant but interferes with good flowering and is pretty annoying.
I’d previously found an organic ‘wonder-spray’ called Neem that was reported to kill everything, including caterpillars (which most insecticides don’t kill).
However, I really wanted to move away from using any sprays of any type, organic or not. Instead, I wanted to create a balanced ecological system where the garden would pretty much take care of itself.
I knew all the theory about beneficial bugs and so I was confident that the bugs would come as the weather warmed. Hard as it was, I trusted the theory and I waited.
Sure enough, I soon noticed hoverflies in and around the brassicas that we had planted under the roses. Soon, larvae started appearing on the brassicas AND roses! Then the ladybugs came, and their larvae appeared too, and then THE THRIP ALL DISAPPEARED within about 24-48 hours. Completely gone!
If we’d sprayed, we would have killed the thrip, but they would have kept coming back again and again, and we’d have to keep spraying them. The beneficial bugs would have no reason to visit the plants, and the cycle would continue.
By trusting in the natural food cycle of the garden, we eradicated our thrip problem and gained a whole lot of bug friends. I encourage you to try an experiment like that.
So, next time you see some bad bugs, don’t panic! Instead, think of them as food for the good bugs. After all, you won’t get beneficial insects if they don’t have anything to eat!
Here is a link to a very useful site for more information about beneficial insects.
If you have any good beneficial bug stories, I’d love to hear them!