L. Sarhan has a B.A. in English and Creative Writing. She currently working on an M.A. in English.
Many gardeners and farmers worry about insect damage to their crops and flowers. Novice gardeners may be quick to rid their garden of insects. In fact, those who use pesticides to protect their gardens from damaging insects may be doing more harm than good. Some insects actually help the health of a garden and crops. Pesticides can be indiscriminate and kill off all pests, including those that help your garden flourish.
These beneficial insects help to aid in controlling the population of other insects that can cause irreversible damage to crops and gardens. Whether you are a beginner gardener or an expert, it is good to know what bugs are beneficial to a garden's health and how to attract these insects that will aid in the protection of your garden.
With about 500 species of damsel bugs around the world, damsel bugs are very helpful in keeping many harmful insects from destroying your garden. Damsel bugs are predatory and considered to be one of the "true bugs". Both nymphs (juveniles) and adults hunt out a variety of insects, including aphids (plant lice), mites, caterpillars and other insect eggs, larvae, and nymphs. They kill their prey immediately with their piercing mouthparts and suck each meal dry. Keep in mind that after feasting on their prey, they do have to consume a small amount of plant tissue, but generally it isn't enough to do any damage to your garden or crops.
Damsel bugs are not available for purchase through commercial suppliers but there are ways to attract damsels bugs to your garden and fields. Consider adding chamomile, cilantro, lavender, dill, and fennel to bring more damsel bugs to your garden. They enjoy sunny areas, especially from mid-June to mid-August.
Although adult green lacewings only feed on pollen, nectar, and aphid honeydew, the larvae of the green lacewings have an insatiable appetite for eggs and immature stages of a variety of insects. Some of their favorite meals include aphids, caterpillars, whitefly, some beetle varieties, and spider mites, especially red mites. The larvae will eat non-stop for about two to three weeks before they spin a cocoon and emerge as an adult about 10 to 14 days later.
Although you can order green lacewings eggs from commercial suppliers, chances are you may already have things in your garden that will attract them. Green lacewings love floral plants as well as shrubs and trees. According to Mother Earth News, if you notice that your garden is plagued by aphids, consider spraying your plants with one tablespoon of sugar to one cup of water. This will increase aphid honeydew production and alert beneficial insects that love to dine on aphids, not just green lacewings.
Another insect that loves feasting on aphids is ladybugs. In fact, they are known to consume around 5,000 aphids in their complete life cycle. This means that ladybugs consume approximately 50-60 aphids a day. They do not just dine on aphids. They also enjoy soft-bodied insects, leafhoppers, and mealybugs just to name a few.
In addition to eating other bugs, ladybugs love to consume pollen from a variety of plants. It is suggested that if a gardener wants to attract more ladybugs, then planting certain plants will keep ladybugs coming back all season long. Some ladybug favorites include geraniums, cosmos, dandelions, cilantro, fennel, yarrow, caraway, and angelica.
There are over 100 species of assassin bugs just in North American alone, divided into eight main types:
- Black Corsair
- Masked Hunters
- Wheel Bugs
- Kissing Bugs
- Bee Killers
- Ambush Bugs
- Thread-legged Bugs
- Feather-legged Bugs.
They are stealthy and fierce. They were born to hunt other insects. They will stab their prey with a sword-like mouth part while injecting deadly venom in their prey that liquefies their insides. Sounds scary right? To the insect world, assassin bugs should be feared. Gardeners rarely see assassin bugs because they are the sneaky insects. However, if a gardener is unfortunate to come across one and be bitten by an assassin bug, it will leave a painful welt. Assassin bugs love to hunt down hornworms, cucumber beetles, Colorado potato beetles, leafhoppers, caterpillars, Mexican bean beetles, and other crop-damaging insects.
Pirate bugs are great for protecting tomato, corn, soybean, cotton and alfalfa crops. They enjoy eating aphids, whiteflies, psyllids, caterpillars and mites. In fact, they are known to consume more than 30 spider mites a day.
You can attract pirate bugs by planting clovers, yarrow, daisies, goldenrod, and other flowering plants. It is a good idea to have these plants around because if there aren't enough insects to feed on, they will feed on these plants and hopefully leave your crops alone.
There are thousands of species of nematodes. Some are beneficial and others can destroy gardens and crops. Having the right nematode in your garden will help guard against many damaging pests. Beneficial nematodes (Steinernematidae and Heterorhabditidae family) will inject insects with deadly bacteria that will kill the insect within 24 to 48 hours. Some will even enter the insect, eating it from the inside out. They especially love to devour weevils, white grubs, cutworms, chinch bugs and many others. Most experienced gardeners order nematodes to ensure they get nematodes that are beneficial to their gardens.
Many gardeners have mixed feelings about whether a praying mantis is good for the garden or not. They have an aggressive appetite for a wide variety of insects including those that harm your gardens. However, they also have an appetite for some insects that can be beneficial to the garden as well. They have even been known to take down lizards, frogs, and even sometimes hummingbirds. It is also worth noting that it was discovered in 2020 that the praying mantis has an aggressive appetite for the Asian giant hornets (Vespa mandarinia), more commonly known as "murder hornets". Mostly they love to eat caterpillars, flies, ladybugs, bees, wasps, butterflies, and moths. If you want to attract praying mantis to your garden, plant some marigolds, cosmos, fennel, dill, angelica, or yarrow.
Ground beetles are great to have around any yard or garden. There are over 2,000 species of ground beetles. They often hide under rocks, logs, and other debris. They give off a foul-smelling odor when they are disturbed due to an oil secretion to ward off predators. However, these creepy insects can help reduce your need for chemical insecticides. Their favorite meals are comprised of slugs, ants, aphids, wireworms, caterpillars, maggots, and other insect larvae. Ground beetles also enjoy feasting on invasive weeds such as foxtail, ragweed, thistle, and lambsquarter.
If you want to attract more ground beetles to your garden, consider planting clover, evening primrose, and amaranthus in your yard.
There are many other insects that are beneficial to gardens and crops. Some of these include spiders, bees and wasps. Butterflies can also be beneficial as adults. It is caterpillars that can do quite a bit of damage to a garden. Also keep in mind that as you are planting plants to attract beneficial insects, they may also attract insects that will harm your garden. Before you reach for your bottle of pesticide, consider alternative repellants so that you don't repel or kill the beneficial insects as well.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2015 Linda Sarhan
Rajan Singh Jolly from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar, INDIA. on March 22, 2015:
Very informative and useful for garden lovers. Thanks for sharing your knowledge.
Cynthia Hoover from Newton, West Virginia on February 28, 2015:
Very informative, just in time for planting season to roll out! Voted up. Interesting and useful! Keep up the good work!
Patsy Bell Hobson from zone 6a, SEMO on February 26, 2015:
Great timing for this good gardening info. Seeing it now, they will be able to remember your site and remembers where to come back .