Garden Pest Control: Good Insects to Have Garden Pest Control: Good Insects to Have

Most insects in the garden are destructive, quickly turning a bumper crop into a disease ridden failure. Predatory insects, however, are a benefit in the garden. Beneficial, predatory insects provide a safe, healthy, environmentally friendly form of garden pest control. As gardeners more and more begin to “think green”, turning away from harmful and unhealthful pesticides, they look for safer alternatives to garden pest control.

Insecticidal soaps and washes can provide some protection from destructive garden intruders, but they are easily washed away with frequent watering and rains, making continuous and vigilant application both a necessity and a chore. Beneficial, predatory insects on the other hand are virtually maintenance free once you have established a friendly garden environment in which they will thrive.

Beneficial insects can be purchased through garden centers, online and in seed catalogs. Predatory insects are most successful as pest control if they are released into a garden environment that has all the elements the insects require for breeding and survival. It is best to release the insects during periods of high occupation by harmful bugs on which you hope to have the predators feed. If adequate food and breeding grounds are not provided, predatory insects will simply move on to greener garden pastures once the food supply in your garden is gone, making it necessary for you to release new predators in the event your garden becomes infested with pests again. Generally, it is okay to order predatory insect species once damage is noticed, as the damaging bugs will continue to thrive in the meantime.

Be a good host for your beneficial garden insect guests. Commit to your decision to use a green gardening method of pest control and discontinue use of all chemical pesticides. Chemical pesticides are indiscriminant and will kill your friendly predators, too. Providing a varied and balanced garden environment consisting of herbs, flowers, shrubs and plants throughout the yard provides the proper food and shelter predatory insects need for feeding and breeding. A moist garden environment is important to beneficial bugs as well. Frequent watering and the addition of mulching materials encourage insects to make your garden their new, permanent home, ready at the wait for new pest infestations.

Spiders, ladybugs, parasitic wasps and more are great predators to have in and near your gardens. Before ordering a species of insect for insect control, assess garden damage to determine likely offenders and which predatory insect would be of the most benefit to you. Consult online resources or garden references for tell tale signs of several common garden pests and the kinds of damage they cause. (HINT: to identify insects by sight, look during the evening when insects are most active.)

Spiders are a good general garden inhabitant to have. Spiders feed on a vast variety of creatures and can be attracted to your gardens (free of charge) by planting shrubs and maintaining hiding places in the way of compost, brush and mulch piles. Spiders thrive in environments that are kept moist.

Assassin bugs feed on small and young insects and caterpillars by sucking their fluids from their bodies. Like spiders, assassin bugs kill a large variety of pests. Sunflowers attract assassin bugs.

Parasitic wasps kill intruding garden insects by laying their young inside soft bodied insects and caterpillars. When the young hatch, they eat the host insect. Although they resemble many stinging wasps, parasitic wasps do not sting animals or humans.

For aphids, caterpillars and cutworms, ground beetles are beneficial predators. The shiny bugs live just under the surface of the ground. They are most active at night. Ground beetles will sometimes eat other soft bodied larvae or slugs.

Lacewings have been welcomed by gardeners for decades. Lacewings eat many varieties of harmful garden insects, including aphids, thrips, mites, caterpillar eggs and more. Lacewings are attracted to a variety of flowers, among them coreopsis, cosmos, and tansy.

Most gardeners know ladybugs (and ladybird beetles) to be a viable defense against aphids. Ladybugs will feed on many other species of small insects. Ladybugs like native grasses, marigolds and yarrows.

Praying mantises are a predatory insect well known for their voracious appetites. Made famous by the fact that females eat males after breeding, praying mantises can grow to be up to five inches long. Aphids, beetles, flies, butterflies, and many other small insects make up the diet of the praying mantis.

Several species of large, stinging wasps control garden pests. Various hornets and yellow jackets paralyze prey with their stings and eat their victim insects. Needing nectar and pollen to survive as adults, these wasps are often welcomed with mixed enthusiasm by garden enthusiasts despite their aid in pest control because of their quick inclination to sting humans and indiscriminant feeding on other beneficial insect species.

Dragonflies are a joy to gardeners. Like the wasps, dragonflies feed on a large variety of insects, including some larger varieties not attacked by small predators. As an added benefit to the gardener, dragonflies feed heavily on mosquitoes and biting insects, increasing the health and comfort of more than just your garden plants.

Like lacewings, one final insect predator, hover flies, are attracted to gardens by cosmos and coreopsis. The striped abdomens of adults look somewhat like a small bee. The larvae of the hover fly feeds on mealy bugs, aphids, and small insects. Adults rely on nectar from flowers.

Creating a natural home garden environment helps to attract predatory species of garden insects for natural control of harmful pests. Additional supplies of predators are available by mail order. Release insects soon after purchase, following the directions provided by the insect supplier. To increase your chances of predator success, spray lower plant leaves with a mixture of sugar water to encourage the insects to remain in your garden long enough to make it a home. With a little preparation and encouragement from you, predatory insects will help to strike a beneficial balance between pests and controllers, allowing garden plants to thrive and produce healthy, untainted flowers, herbs and vegetables all season long.

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