Not all bugs are bad. Don’t get me wrong, I have my issues with certain bugs. When I lived in NYC a giant cockroach crawled across my face one night while I was sleeping. Let me tell you, that sh*t changes a person. I slept at the foot of my bed with the lights on for a solid month.
I generally do not like bugs in my house because of “the cockroach incident”. The only bug I will allow in my house is spiders.
You see, I have a deal with the spiders. If they leave me alone and eat other bugs in my house, I will leave them alone. Much like spiders help eradicate other bugs in the house, certain insects do the same thing in your garden.
Garden pests are a fact of life, and if you have ever had a garden you know that some bugs can be very naughty and will harm your precious plant babies.
On the flip side, there are so many beneficial bugs that can fight your battle with garden pests for you. The good news is that it is relatively easy to attract these insects to your garden and once they are there they will usually stay as long as there is a steady food source.
Which Insects are Harmful?
Depending on where you live and what kind of weather occurs during your growing season (i.e. too much rain, not enough rain, lots of heat and humidity, etc) you will most likely be exposed to a number of garden pests that can vary from year to year. Here are some examples of garden pests that I have had experience with both in NY and OH:
- Aphids, slugs, snails, cabbage worms, tomato hornworms, caterpillars, squash bugs, cucumber beetles, and corn earworms
The best way to spot these pests is by checking your plants regularly. These bugs will live on and feed off of your plants. They won’t just fly around your plant and visit; they will take up residence, make themselves at home, lay eggs, and slowly destroy your little plant baby. If you are growing an organic garden pests are unavoidable, but the good news is that you can do a few things proactively to help keep the pests to a minimum.
Which Insects are Beneficial?
There are three types of beneficial bugs that you want to attract to your garden. Let’s break it down:
- Pollinators: Such as honeybees, native bees, and butterflies. These bugs do not actually attack the pests, but they are still very important to your garden. Once your plants flower, they will pollinate or fertilize them. This helps food-producing plants to be more productive. And if you want to save seeds from your plants, you need these little guys.
- Predators: Such as ladybugs, hoverflies, and lacewings. These bugs will eat garden pests. For example, ladybugs love to eat aphids and so do their larvae. Yummy!
- Parasites: Certain types of wasps and flies fit into this category. These bugs will basically lay their eggs on garden pests such as caterpillars, tomato hornworms, and cabbage worms. Their larvae will then feed off of their hosts’ bodies essentially destroying them from the inside out. Super gross, but effective.
How to Attract Beneficial Insects to Your Garden
The best way to attract these helpful bugs is by providing a food source of nectar and pollen, aka flowers. Native plants are great for this because they are easy for the bugs that are native to your area to recognize.
You can make life easy and plant a variety of perennial flowers in and/or around your garden. These are hardy flowers that don’t require a lot of extra care and they will come back on their own year after year. Pick a variety of flowers that bloom at different times during the season. This will help attract and keep beneficial bugs in your garden all season long.
In addition to planting flowers around your garden, its also a good idea to plant some companion flowers with your veggies. Marigolds and nasturtium are great companion plants for many veggies and will help attract beneficial bugs.
That’s it. These bugs will be your army of defense against pests and all you have to do is get them to the party by planting some pretty flowers for them to feed off of. Once you have established this little ecosystem your work and involvement is pretty minimal. Just keep an eye on the plants to make sure the pests don’t get out of control.