Insects in the Garden: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

Gardens are amazing tiny worlds. Just like in our macro-size earth, maintaining a delicate balance is essential to a healthy micro-ecosystem. This is even true of the bugs!

The important thing is – get educated. Know your bugs. Don’t assume they are all bad. There are many beneficial insects that play an important role in the health of your garden. It’s also advantageous to understand their purpose so you can find natural ways to deal with them. Chemical remedies can be a last resort.

Generally speaking, if a bug is bad, it has a predator that is good and can work with you to get rid of it. All it takes is a little bit of knowledge and being able to identify which bugs are good, which ones are bad and which ones are just plain ugly. Then you will be empowered to work in conjunction with nature to maintain a healthy garden.

Remember, if you use pesticide to kill the detrimental bugs, you will also kill the helpful ones. Everything in a garden is interconnected. The toxins in pesticide not only kill the bug but can also affect good bacteria and other microorganisms that are the food source for good bugs. It can penetrate soil and water, ultimately affecting the plants themselves.

Principles for Encouraging Insect Balance in Your Garden

Some basic ideas for maintaining an advantageous environment include:

Understand the benefits of some types of bugs. Aside from helping pollination, one primary advantage the “good bugs” offer is pest control. There are natural enemies in the insect world. The good bugs actually eat the bad ones so your need for chemicals can be greatly reduced simply by having the right combination of bugs.

Be able to identify good bugs so you are not killing the insects that help your garden. Identification is easy with the internet. Visit the library or find sites like www.gardeninsects.com with a quick pictorial reference to beneficial bugs, links to where you can actually buy them and guidance on how to release them into your garden. Keep in mind it is helpful to know all stages of the insect’s life because they look quite different from larvae to adult.

Plant things that attract good bugs. Researching what insects feed on is a key strategy to attracting those desirable bugs. They need food (nectar and pollen, and of course those bad bugs), and a home or suitable living conditions.

Identify bad bugs and attract natural predators. Often we see the damage before we see the culprit. Holes, tracks, strange looking material on leaves are all clues that you’ve got a problem pest. Consult with your garden center or a website about what the signs mean. When you’ve seen a bug you think is guilty, www.gardeninsects.com also has a reference tool to aid in identifying a problem bug and its natural predators. Another strategy is to strategically grow “sacrificial plants” to draw the bad bugs away from the plants you care about to a plant they want to eat instead.

Examples of The “Good” (Beneficial) Bugs

Ladybugs – These cute polka-dot bugs are also voracious eaters and one of the best bugs for your garden. They eat aphids, spider mites and various soft-bodied insects. Some plants that attract them are Queen Anne’s lace, coriander and marigold.

Predatory Bugs – These are some ugly hard-shelled dudes that I would usually want to squash, like minute pirate bugs, ambush bugs and assassin bugs. They eat a variety of caterpillars and pest insects. Draw them by planting dill, goldenrod or coneflower.

Ground Beetles – I’m inclined to step on these, too, but they are great for the garden. They are the creepy, large bugs that hide under rocks and scramble fast when you discover them. They will eat slugs, snails, root maggots and Colorado potato beetle larvae. You can invite these critters with rocks, leaves, mulch and low -growing plants for shelter.

Hover Fly – These small insects look and act like darting bees but they aren’t and they help by feeding on aphids, mealy bugs and other pests. Hover Flies like parsley.

Lacewing – With their beautiful, lacy wings, these flying insects hang out on windows and screens in the summer and seem more annoying than anything, but they are helpful, too. They eat aphids, whiteflies, spider mites and other small insects. Cosmos attracts lacewing.

Examples of The “Bad” (Harmful) Bugs

Aphids – This is one of the most destructive insects in gardens. A small, translucent green insect (but can be other colors) that sucks plant sap from stems and leaves, resulting in yellowing, mottled leaves, browning, wilting. They also excrete honeydew on leaves, promoting fungus.

Spider Mites – These tiny, innocent bugs look harmless but are destructive, eating plant sap causing yellow spots and yellow leaves. They are often orange, but can also be yellow or green.

Colorado Potato Beetle –An almost artful orange and black beetle that can strip foliage completely. They like potato, tomato and eggplants.

Caterpillars – In order
to become a beautiful butterfly, these creatures consume enormous amounts of leaves and tunnel into fruit. Their droppings sully crops. Some insects and birds are their natural predators.

Now you are armed with the information you need to battle the bad bugs and befriend the good ones for the ultimate benefit and balance of your garden and our world!

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