Not all bugs are bad; in fact, there are many insects that are beneficial to the garden. These helpful creatures aid in decomposing plant material, pollinating crops and devouring pests which are harmful to your garden. For this reason, you should consider keeping them around.
The best way to draw these beneficial bugs into your garden is by growing their favorite flowering plants. Some of these include:
You can also attract these insects by offering them a “bug bath.” Somewhat like a birdbath, this shallow container is filled with stones or gravel and just enough water to keep it moist. Since insects are prone to drowning, add some larger stones to the dish to serve as suitable resting sites. This way they will be able to drink the water without becoming immersed in it.
Another way to lure the good bugs to the garden is by not using any harmful pesticides.
There are a number of beneficial insects for the garden. In addition to common pollinating insects like bees and butterflies, many other bugs can be helpful. The following ‘good bugs’ should also be encouraged to your garden:
Parasitic wasps may be tiny, but their presence is of great importance. These beneficial insects lay their eggs in the bodies of numerous pests, feeding off of them and eventually killing them. Some of their victims include:
You can welcome these parasitic friends into the garden with plants such as dill, yarrow, white clover, and wild carrot.
You may be surprised to learn that the good deeds of both the centipede and millipede far outweigh the bad. Centipedes wipe put all sorts of soil-dwelling pests, such as slugs, while millipedes help break down organic matter.
Assassin bugs do just as their name implies. These insects are a natural part of the garden and help suppress harmful bug populations by feeding on flies, harmful beetles, mosquitoes, and caterpillars.
Aphids, a common nuisance in the garden, are extremely destructive to plants. They not only suck out the sap but spread disease as well. However, there are a number of good bugs that will take advantage of their presence by devouring the harmful pests. The aphid midge is just one of them.
If you plant some flowering weeds, such as wild carrot and yarrow, between your garden crops, you are sure to attract another helpful insect. The adult hover fly may not do much; but just one of its larvae will do the trick, devouring approximately 400 aphids during its development.
Green lacewing larvae also feed on aphids as well as the following pests:
These insects can be encouraged into the garden by providing water sources and flowering weeds.
Another aphid-eating insect is the kindly ladybug. Soft-bodied insects, as well as their eggs, are also a favorite of ladybugs. These attractive insects are tempted into the garden with flowering weeds and herbs that include dandelions, wild carrots, yarrow, dill, and angelica.
Pirate bugs attack many bad insects and are especially fond of thrips, spider mites, and small caterpillars. Plant some goldenrod, daisies, alfalfa, and yarrow to charm their presence.
The praying mantis is a popular garden friend. This insect will feed on virtually any type of bug including crickets, beetles, caterpillars, aphids, and leafhoppers.
Although most beetles are harmful to plants in the garden, ground beetles are not. They feed on cutworms, caterpillars, snails, slugs, and other soil-dwelling insects. Incorporating white clover into the garden entices this good bug.
Commonly taking shelter beneath stone or wooden walkways are valuable decomposers called rove beetles. Besides feeding on organic matter, they also eat harmful insects such as snails, slugs, aphids, mites, and nematodes.
The soldier beetle can be enticed into the garden by mixed planting s of hydrangeas, goldenrod, and milkweed where it will feed on caterpillars, aphids, and grasshopper eggs.
Pillbugs, also known as sowbugs, feed on decaying organic matter and do not pose a threat within the garden unless overpopulation occurs. If this happens, marigolds can often take care of the problem.
Mulch can also serve as either a deterrent for bad bugs or an attraction for the good ones. For instance, mulching with heavy straw deters numerous types of beetles; most of which are harmful. On the other hand, mulching with hay or dry grass is a good way to attract spiders. Although some people (like me) hate them, these creatures love hiding beneath mulch where they will catch numerous pesky insects.
Becoming familiar with the insects that often visit your garden is the best defense when combating harmful bugs. Pesticides can hurt beneficial insects, as well as plants, and can be dangerous if not used properly; therefore, they should not be implemented. Instead, incorporate a variety of useful plants and welcome the good bugs; let them do all of the work instead.
Integrated pest management, or IPM, uses a variety of common-sense, low-toxic methods to control unwanted insects on plants in the garden. One method uses beneficial insects to thwart harmful ones. For example, spider mites are harmful to many plants, but certain predatory mites prey on the undesirable ones. By identifying the destructive pests you have in your garden, you can use their natural enemies to protect your plants.
We've talked a lot about the antibacterial, antifungal, and antiseptic properties of many different essential oils, but we always think about these properties when cleaning household surfaces, or using for health purposes. Many essential oils can be used in the garden for these same purposes! Many of your plant's ailments can be mended by using essential oils instead of their toxic counterparts. Tea tree and lavender essential oils are very antibacterial and antifungal and work well to combat fungus and bacteria issues on your plants. Add 10 drops tea tree essential oil and 10 drops lavender essential oil to 1 gallon of water, before watering. I have also been known to add essential oils to a spray bottle, along with water, and spray just the affected area too! My Medicine Woman essential oil blend is not just great during the cold and flu season, it's another blend that is great to also use in the garden. It's not only highly antibacterial and antifungal but will also help protect your plants from bugs too!
With so many kinds of assassin bugs, they are often confused with other invertebrates that are not a gardener’s friend. When scouting your landscape for hungry helpmates, consider these clarifications to know what is—and isn’t—an assassin bug.
The most common and readily recognizable assassin is the wheel bug. At 1¼ inch in length, wheel bugs are the largest species in North America, gray in color and sporting a raised semi-circular crest on its back that resembles a wheel with protruding spokes. Dr. Michael J. Raupp, entomologist at the University of Maryland, dubs the wheel bug “the lion or the eagle of your food web,” and calls their presence evidence of “a very healthy landscape.”
One type of assassin bug is the ambush bug, which has a stouter body that’s typically bright yellow, red, or orange. They also have thicker front legs that they use to help capture and hold down prey. Yet while assassin bugs actively hunt on different types of vegetation, ambush bugs tend to sit among flowers and wait for victims to come their way.
Though it looks similar to the wheel bug, the western conifer seed bug (WCSB for short) is a species of true bug and a member of the Coreidae family. It makes a buzzing noise in flight and can emit a noxious odor, like a stink bug. It feeds primarily on resinous plants, particularly the sap of developing conifer cones.
The leaf-footed bug is the common moniker for insects in the family Coreidae. While they have the piercing and sucking mouthparts that assassin bugs do, leaf-footed bugs, in both their nymphal and adult life stages, damage plants, feeding on juices from leaves, shoots, stems, and fruit. Leaf-footed bugs can ravage the likes of vegetables, citrus, and row crops, as well as ornamental plants and weeds.
Beneficial insects are those insect species that perform valuable services like Pollination of flowers, weed control, Soil manufacturing, and pest control, etc. In farming and agriculture, where the goal is to cultivate selected crops, the insects that cause an interruption in the production process are classified as non-beneficial pests, while insects that facilitate production are considered as beneficial.
Fields shared by beneficial insects can help eco-friendly insect pest management and minimize the expense of a lot of money on insecticides and pesticides. Beneficial insects positively affect the crop yield so careful decisions should be taken to manage the insect pest.
Knowing who your friends are is of great use in the garden.
A dragonfly may look big and scary, but that’s no reason to squash the daylights out of him. He’s your ally, not your enemy!
Remember – beneficial insects are on the job when you keep the six keys to a successful garden in mind:
For more about good bugs and gardening in general, I recommend Rodale’s Ultimate Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening, edited by Fern Marshall Bradley, Barbara W. Ellis, and Ellen Phillips , available on Amazon .
Get the whole family involved in gardening and discover good bugs, a gardener’s friends!
Photo credit: Shutterstock. Product photos via manufacturers.
Nan Schiller is a writer with deep roots in the soil of southeastern Pennsylvania. Her background includes landscape and floral design, a BS in business from Villanova University, and a Certificate of Merit in floral design from Longwood Gardens. An advocate of organic gardening with native plants, she’s always got dirt under her nails and freckles on her nose. With wit and hopefully some wisdom, she shares what she’s learned and is always ready to dig into a new project!