Encourage a few insect guests and reap the rewards.

By Kier Holmes
June 14, 2019
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Despite what some gardeners might think, not all insects are intruders and pests. In fact, there are a host of beneficial insects that are extremely important for the health of your garden. These unsung heroes are the natural enemies of marauding bad bugs that eat and damage your plants, and these hard workers will naturally defend your plants. This should come as reassuring and earth-friendly news because it means there are natural, non-toxic, and long-term solutions to reducing the number of destructive insects invading your garden.

The problem with conventional pesticides is that they not only kill the "bad guys" but they destroy the "good guys," too. Plus, an alarming number of insects are now displaying resistance to chemical pesticides, which means that the unruly ones may gain strength and numbers. Not to mention the unhealthy idea of nasty, harmful chemicals tainting your food crops and waterways. So, what's an organic gardener to do? The first step is to create a garden habitat that attracts these beneficial bugs and then maintain a non-toxic environment to support them. The best way to lure these helpers in is by growing their favorite plants, such as marigolds, cosmos, yarrow, daisies, and Queen Anne's lace. And while honeybees and butterflies usually get the deserved limelight, there are others worth celebrating and protecting.

Ladybug

These charming red-and-black spotted garden icons are voracious eaters of plant-destroying insects such as thrip, scale, and aphids (usually seen on vulnerable roses). In fact, ladybugs can consume up to 50 aphids in a day and around 5,000 over their lifetime. Because they are a natural predator of the insects that are pests, they are an important part of the food chain.

Green Lacewing

This relatively common beneficial insect might not be as recognizable as the ladybug, but this predator is notorious for feeding on aphids and other soft-bodied insects like caterpillars, mealy bugs, and leafhoppers. Lacewings measure 1/2- to 3/4-inch long and sport distinctive lacey wings-thus the name. Encourage these helpers to stick around by not using broad-spectrum pesticides in your garden.

Parasitic Wasp

These insects might be tiny, but they are mighty. And though harmless to humans, these valuable allies roam landscapes hunting for unsuspecting evil hosts in which to paralyze, causing it to stop feeding-good news for your plants. Like some science fiction movie, the wasp lays its eggs inside the pest and then when the larvae hatch and mature, they feed on and eventually kill the prey. The list of victims includes aphids, cabbage worms, and tomato hornworms. Parasitic wasps are also important for pollination, like honeybees, and they supplement their diet with nectar and pollen. This means consider adding flowering plants like dill, marigolds, and rosemary for them to enjoy.

Ground Beetle

If you've ever turned over a rock and witnessed a shiny black or dark brown beetle scurrying away, then you've met the ground beetle. Given that these insects eat their own body weight in food daily-food like caterpillars, fly maggots, ants and slugs-makes them a beneficial player in the garden. They live on the soil, under rocks and garden debris and can live for up to four years, preying on soil-dwelling garden pests.

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