Bugs Are Our Friends…Well, Some of Them

Unwelcome bugs munching on your lovely plants are an unfortunate reality for any gardener.  Take a stroll through most garden centers and you will find all sorts of chemical solutions to remove or discourage them from sucking and nibbling on tender leaves.  But what if you don’t want to use chemicals?  Is there an organic solution to insect control?

Yes there is, if you embrace the idea that some insects can actually be your friends in the garden.  Insects such as parasitic wasps, hover flies, lacewings, ladybugs, spiders (yes, I know…not an insect), nematodes and mantids can all help protect your garden.

Beneficial insects don’t do this because they appreciate all the hours you work at keeping your garden beautiful, of course.  They are effective because they are either predators to insects like aphids or they use a particular insect in their reproductive cycle.  For instance, Encarsia and Trichogramma wasps help control cabbage worms, hornworms and corn earworms by laying their eggs on the caterpillars of these insects.  The emerging wasps eventually kill their host.  Spiders and mantids feast on a variety of insects.  Lacewing larvae, also known as aphid lions, are effective at controlling thrips and caterpillars.  Lady bugs are famous for their aphid round ups.

While beneficial insects will naturally find their way to your garden, you can encourage them by choosing plants they particularly love.  Many herbs attract not just pollinators but also an assortment of beneficial insects.  Calendula, fennel, yarrow, dandelion, angelica, coriander, feverfew and tansy are just some options.  Coriander is particularly attractive to braconid wasps (a parasitic wasp), hover flies and lacewings.  Cosmos, mint and Queen Ann’s lace are loved by hoverflies, ladybugs and spiders.  A note about spiders:  Spiders like places where they can lurk.  Research found that there were 30 times more spiders (and correspondingly less insect damage) in gardens that had been mulched.

In the house, if I see a spider I’m yelling imprecations at the things and looking for a) my husband, or b) a lot of paper towels.  In the garden, they scamper across my fingers while I’m digging and I don’t even flinch.  Okay, maybe a little flinch.  But I leave them strictly alone.  They are doing an invaluable service there and I honor and respect that.  Spend some time honoring and creating an inviting garden for these insects and they will more than repay your efforts.

References:

Cranshaw, W. (2004). Garden Insects of North America: The Ultimate Guide to Backyard Bugs. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Hemenway, T. (2009). Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing Company.

Pears, P. (2005). Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening. New York, NY: DK Publishing.

Yepsen, R. (2007). Newspaper, Pennies, Cardboard & Eggs for Growing a Better Garden. New York, NY: Rodale, Inc.

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