The Good, the Bad, and the Bugly

by | May 18, 2018

Many folks are relying more on natural solutions to deal with pests in their gardens. By attracting beneficial predators to your yard you're creating a lively ecosystem and helping minimize the need for other pest controls.
What is often forgotten though, is that to keep these insects using our gardens as a home base, we need to provide them with a steady food source (not just a one-time feast) and water. A bit of good garden planning and learning to co-exist with other critters will help you establish a healthy local community.

Companion Planting

We often think of companion planting as placing different flowers or aromatic herbs amongst our beds to help their partners grow better, but another approach is to grow plants that will attract beneficial predators by acting as a food source for them. Some companion plants will provide pollen and nectar which will nourish various beneficials at different stages in their life cycles. Other plants may simply attract ‘food’ like aphids.

“Attract aphids?!” you say? Yes. By using ‘decoy plants’ (or Trap Crops) to attract aphids you’ll be providing your beneficial friends with consistent meals so that they won’t fly away to other gardens in search of food. Keeping your beneficial predators around means that they can help keep your garden healthy all summer, instead of leaving to find food once they have dealt with a single pest population boom. They’ll keep populations in check on your decoy plants but, more importantly, will be around to devour any pests that venture further into your garden.

There are many plants that will help, but some of the most effective plants for attracting aphids are nasturtiums, lupines, dill, and valerian. Similar to planting year-round for bees, select plants with staggered bloom times to extend the feeding season. For more info, visit the buglady.ca – their Planting page has a detailed chart of which plant attracts which predator and prey.

Providing Water

Beneficial insects will get a fair bit of fluid from the food they eat and dew in the morning, but in summer or during dry spells they could need help to get all the water they need. A birdbath can double as a water source for insects, except for the obvious drawback which could make them easy pickings for bigger predators. Consider setting small trays of water in areas where birds would have difficulty reaching them, so that you can help hydrate your beneficial insects while keeping them safe.

Shelter

Insects will seek their own form of shelter in fallen leaves and rocks, or the natural vegetation of your garden. To maximize this, dedicating a small area of your garden to create an ‘insectary’ is a fascinating project. It will, however, likely end up being a home for a multitude of garden visitors, not just the beneficial insects you want, so you may want to think about both the ‘costs and benefits’ of this type of project before you start!

Beneficial Insects in the Garden

So, for all this effort, how will beneficial insects help your garden? Some of our local champions include:

Ladybugs prefer aphids, and can eat up to 5000 in their lifetime. They also like to eat thrips, mites and other soft-bodied insects.

Green Lacewings also enjoy aphids, as well as other soft-bodied insects like mealybugs, mites, thrips and whitefly.

Braconid Wasps do not sting! They feed on moth, beetle and fly larvae, moth eggs and more.

Ground Beetle Larvae nibble on soil dwelling critters like caterpillars, cutworms and slugs.

Nematodes are microscopic worms that naturally occur in the soil. They attack only soil dwelling insects, leaving plants and helpful earthworms alone. They are useful in controlling a huge number of critters like European chaffer beetles, root maggots, iris borer and more.

More Information

Read on! This is just a small entry on a very large topic, and each garden offers its own unique challenges and needs when it comes to pest control. For more info, visit sites like: thebuglady.ca (specifically, their Planting Page) or the BC government’s photo page ‘Beneficial Insects: Predators, Parasitoids and Pollinators‘.