There’s no such thing as a good bug, right?
First of all, there are plenty of places that we don’t need bugs: I don’t care for cockroaches, silverfish, or bedbugs (although I’m sure they serve their purposes). Once I’m outside, though I tend to give bugs the benefit of the doubt in order to protect beneficial insects. I have been bitten and stung by plenty of critters, but overall I chalk it up to a series of life lessons considerably less miserable than the results of late nights in my college years. Overall, I believe that there is no need to go out of my way to eradicate bugs from my landscape, and in fact I have come to have a great deal of respect and admiration for quite a number of them. Here are a few beneficial insects that do a great deal of the hard work in my garden while I sit around and drink sweet tea.
Ladybugs and their larva have voracious appetites for aphids. They also eat scale, mealybugs, and pretty much anything else of an edible size that might be preying on garden plants. One reason I stay away from insecticides, including systemics which persist in the tissue of the plant, is that these toxins once consumed by the bad bugs may then be consumed by predators like the ladybug as they feed on the poisoned bugs.
Praying mantises are huge insects that eat any bug they can grasp with their forelegs, including moths, grasshoppers and crickets. Their egg sacks contain up to 200 eggs, and are easy to recognize when walking through fields, meadows, or even Christmas tree farms. I have been known to relocate a few of these gems to my yard in order to reap the benefits of this bug’s presence in my landscape.
Garden spiders are amazing. They are fairly large, colorful, and maybe a little scary looking. They spin webs approximately two feet across which catch a wide range of flying insects for them to eat including wasps, mosquitoes, beetles and moths. To humans they are helpful, and the web with dew or frost in the morning sun is stunning.
Honeybees and bumblebees are both wonderful pollinators. While the former is known for it’s social structure and sweet confection, the latter is a joy to observe in it’s self-contented wandering through the flower beds and vegetable garden. With the well documented decline in honeybee numbers and the difficulty in knowing how the bumblebee fares, it is very important to me to provide ample habitat to welcome them both to my yard.
The best ways to make your landscape a safe haven for beneficial insects are actually quite easy to implement:
- Do not use insecticides. If needed, consider using products that are biologically based like spinosad, bt, beneficial nematodes, milky spore, etc. These are living microorganisms that prey specifically upon many of the bugs that are causing problems. Other options like neem, dormant oil, and diatomaceous earth kill through physical action on the body of the insect, and while they do allow collateral damage there is no toxic buildup. Avoid all systemic insecticides.
- Plant lots of different stuff. Grass is good, add a few trees and shrubs and that’s better, annuals and perennials are even better. The more variety the better.
- Let some weeds grow. Over-grooming is a problem because it removes shelter and possibly food for beneficial insects. If possible, leave part of your yard “natural” or only mow it a few times a year. Leave the fence line untrimmed for long periods of time.
- Add a water feature. It is truly amazing what the addition of moving water will attract to the yard. A simple birdbath with a small pump added to give a trickling sound will draw the attention of insects and birds alike. Watching honeybees drink is really cool!
All bugs are really good bugs, there just happen to be quite a few whose fit in the world we don’t quite understand. Often, attracting beneficial insects to the yard will solve bad bug problems. Happy gardening!