A garden of diversity is the best kind of garden. Your plants and the ecosystem will thank you. A countless number of insects actually help maintain balance in the garden. Gardeners and nurseries are integrating the use of beneficial insects into their growing habitats to help with pest control because it is cost effective and has great results.

Success happens when you observe the whole process like using Integrated Pest Management (IPM) methods. IPM is a detailed approach that takes into consideration flowering plant times, water, shelter and the use of actual beneficial insects and biological controls. Harmful environmental factors also compete with the overall health of the plant, and create conditions for a weak plant (which in return attracts insect damage). Keep in mind, when relying on an IPM or biological approach, you may have to be patient, since it isn’t always a quick fix.

Beneficial insects also limit the use of pesticides. Pesticides can be very harmful because they can kill all insects in the area – the good and bad, including food for future generations of beneficial insects. Generally, pollinators are a smaller population so they have a harder time bouncing back than pests, allowing pests to come back faster and stronger.

Categories of beneficial insects include mostly predators and pollinators. Most people are familiar with the importance of pollinators as an integral part of our food source due to the awareness of declining honey or mason bees. Pollinators transfer pollen form one flower to another to make flower or fruit that our food source depends on. However, there are many other insects that are integral to our food source. These predators help control pests which could damage your crops or ornamentals.

Predatory insects often eat a plethora of other insects. However, many predatory insects feed only on certain types of insects (ex. ladybugs eat mostly aphids). The two most common predatory insects for gardeners are ladybugs and praying mantis. Lady bugs control aphids, scale, thrips, mealybugs and spider mites. These insects are attracted to flowers containing lots of nectar like yarrow. Praying mantis controls moths, aphids, beetles, caterpillars, butterflies and grasshoppers. They also like to hide in raspberries, roses, grasses and shrubs.

A few other insects to attract to your garden are ground beetles which control slugs, cutworms, and snails. They like to hide beneath stepping stones, course mulches, straw and under the soil. Additionally, parasitic wasps eat whiteflies, scale, codling moths and cutworms. These bugs attracted to alyssum, yarrow and clover.

Beneficial nematodes are not insects but are naturally-occurring, microscopic organisms found in soils. These are often used to combat a wide array of soil dwelling pests. They will also attack over wintering adult insects, pupae, diapausing larvae, and grubs when they are in the soil, bark, or even ground litter.

Parasitoids, on the other hand, are insects that live on or in a host insect, feed on the host, and usually kill it in the process. Most parasitoids are small, stingless wasps or flies that lay their eggs in or on specific host insects. These are important to be able to identify because they are attacking Monarch butterflies. Only about 1 in every 10 Monarch eggs will survive to become adult butterfly. Monarchs have many natural enemies and the parasitoids include Tachinid flies and Braconid wasps.

Many insects are very useful in the garden so your initial reaction to squish bugs is not a good idea.

Take time to study the different insects or just encourage beneficials and you may be surprised at the results. Be sure to review my previous blog on Companion Plants for further ideas. Taking a wholesome approach to gardening is the best way to a healthy garden!

Written by Karen Smith, Lane Forest Products Plant Specialist