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When you think about insects living amongst your vegetables, herbs, and flowers, you are likely flooded with visions of locusts devouring the leafy lettuce greens, caterpillars going to town on your cabbages, and aphids sapping the life out of your peas. Before you reach for the pest control products, there are numerous beneficial insects that you should consider attracting to your crops first before taking extreme methods to exterminate the destructive bugs.
Understanding The Beneficial Bug
Bees are naturally one of the first beneficial insects that we all think of when discussing helpful bugs. However, while the value of pollination cannot be overlooked, there is also the matter of pest control. From an agricultural perspective, any insect that hinders your ability to grow and produce healthy crops is going to be classified as being a pest. There are a large number of carnivorous insects that can be used as a means of organic pest control because they will see your crop-devouring pests as their next big meal.
So, in short, not only are beneficial bugs an incredible asset towards helping pollinate your plants, but they can help to save you from an infestation that would otherwise put you at risk of having your entire harvest wiped out.
Types Of Beneficial Bugs
When it comes to beneficial insects, you’ll need to think beyond the bee in order to discover some of the unique bugs that could just become your new best gardening tool.
Here are just a few of some of the insects that you should strive to attract into your growing space:
- Ladybugs. These cute little red and black bugs may have sweet nursery rhymes about them, but they are actually voracious little carnivores. Ladybugs will devour aphids, various types of mites, and other arthropods that are making your plants their buffet line. Cute and docile, ladybugs can actually give you a bit of a painful pinch if you handle them too much, so be sure to just let them do their job in the garden. Also take care not to mistake the green bean leaf beetle for the ladybug; the green bean leaf beetle may look somewhat similar to the ladybug, but they are definitely not an insect you want to encourage.
- Green lacewing. With delicate green lace-like wings, there are several types of lacewing insects. They may not be as adorable as their ladybug counterparts, but they are definitely just as predatory and can make short work of aphids, mites, and other destructive arthropods that are making short work of your plants. Try to avoid handling the green lacewing too much, as some of them have a reputation for releasing an unpleasant odor if they feel threatened.
- Assassin bug. As the name would indicate, this beneficial bug takes no prisoners when it comes to devouring the pests in your garden. They are rather brutal with their methods of enjoying their meals, but they are a very welcome addition to the organic garden because of their ability to swiftly hunt down and kill insects that are much larger than they are. Some of them are also effective at killing ants, which can be very much welcomed if you live in an area that is infested with fire ants.
- Trichgramma wasps. These wasps are most often referred to as “stingless wasps” due to the fact that they don’t pose much of a stinging threat. There are more than 230 species of the trichgramma wasp, but all of them are very beneficial in your garden due to their ability to control at least two dozen types of pests. They can be used to control corn borers, codling moths, and cotton bollworms, for example. The females will lay their eggs directly into the eggs of the targeted pest, with the result being that her own larvae will make a meal of the pests even before they are born.
- Mealybug destroyer. Mealybugs can sap the life out of your citrus plants and can also take a toll on your mulberries, orchids, gardenias, and many other plants. The mealybug destroyer is actually a relative of the ladybug but is a lot less colorful. Often solid brown, the mealybug destroyer sets out to make short work of mealybugs that are infesting your garden. They are quite aggressive carnivores, which is a desirable trait in a beneficial insect.
There are a number of other beneficial insects that can be hugely helpful in managing the invasive and destructive bugs, including damsel bugs, praying mantis, big-eyed bugs, minute pirate bugs, and soldier bugs.
Inviting Beneficial Insects In
There are several methods of encouraging the beneficial insects to call your home their new home. You could include numerous plants that are attractive to them; for example, bees tend to be highly attracted to parsley, sage, broccoli blossoms, and squash blossoms. While other insects might be a bit more efficient at the pollination of your plants, vegetables, fruits, and herbs, it is always a good thing to attract more bees to your garden.
If your land is truly organic and has been kept free of pesticides, then you may find that you already have a really healthy population of beneficial insects. A quick examination of your plants should give you an idea as to what types of bugs are calling your beds home. To continue to encourage your local friendly insect population to thrive, you should avoid using even organic pest control methods, as they rarely discriminate between which types of pests they affect. Diatomaceous earth, for example, is a very effective method of eliminating harmful insects from your garden; however, it can also hurt or kill bees, ladybugs, lacewings, and other beneficial insects. Keep your property a hospitable environment, and the beneficial bugs will keep on coming.
Many organic garden centers sell ladybugs and green lacewing insects to gardeners who are looking to boost the existing population on their property. While lacewings are likely to stick around to see what kinds of meals are available on your plants, you should be aware that ladybugs can be somewhat flighty once released. Many a gardener has looked on in dismay as their newly released ladybugs take off for greener pastures, over the fence and into their neighbor’s garden. There are ladybug houses and other tools that may be effective at helping to encourage at least some of the ladybugs to stick around, however. Those that do stick around are certain to be an effective little carnivorous pest-control squad.
Some other flowers that you can plant around your garden and flower beds to attract beneficial bugs include the following:
- Pussy willows
- Ornamental grasses
As an organic gardener, you are likely a firm believer in allowing nature to do her part in helping your fruits, vegetables, herbs, and decorative flowers to thrive. Let nature do her part in helping to control the pests that are plaguing your plants; you’ll soon find that nature is a lot more adept at handling these pests than any humans are.
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