By Karen Weiland, Advanced Master Gardener
Not all bugs are bad guys. Some are beneficial pollinators and natural enemies of insect pests in our gardens. Many of the crawly, flying critters in our gardens work day and night crusading against evildoers like the beetle larvae, whiteflies, scale, caterpillars, grubs and aphids.
Predatory insects are those that eat other insects. The predators that deserve a welcome mat at the garden door include ladybugs, daddy longlegs, green lacewings, ground beetles, wasps and praying mantis among others. Speaking of praying mantis, did you know that it is among the few insects that can rotate their heads so they can literally look over their shoulder, which makes them an extremely effective predator.
There is another group of insects called parasitoids that lay their eggs on pests and after the eggs hatch, the larvae burrow into the host and eat its tissues from the inside out. Parasitoids are usually very small and include many species of tiny wasps and flies. These good bugs can be attracted to the garden by planting native flowering plants which will provide an alternative source of food if the bad bugs are scarce. Ha, imagine that, a garden with very few bad bugs!
Attracting good bugs starts with good gardening practices. The use of chemical pesticides will kill the bad bugs, the downside is that it will also kill the good bugs. There are companies that specialize in biological pest control. You can purchase eggs or larvae of good bugs at nurseries or from mail-order companies. Planting flowers that offer yummy pollen and nectar such as goldenrod (Solidago), coneflower (Echinacea), milkweed (Asclepias), sunflower (Helianthus), Coreopsis and Aster are a good way to attract beneficial bugs to your garden. Some insect good guys also like to dine on the blooms of herbs such as cilantro (Coriandrum sativum), lovage (Levisticum officinale), dill (Anethum graveolens) and parsley (Petroselinum crispum) and freshly harvested herbs from your garden will give your foods a great flavor boost. Ladybugs will feel invited to spend the winter if you provide an area planted with ground covers such as English Ivy or vinca.
Practice good sanitation by removing diseased plant parts. Many diseases and some insects stick around on infected plants during the winter only to infect new plant growth in the spring.
Learn how to recognize the difference between beneficial insects and insect pests….then tread carefully. The next time you meet up with a creepy, crawly it just might be a garden superhero standing guard, ready to protect your veggies from the bad bugs.
As always, Happy Gardening!
More information about gardening and related subjects is available online at http://www.hort.purdue.edu/ext/garden_pubs.html The Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service can be reached at 499-6334 in LaGrange Co., 636-2111 in Noble Co., 925-2562 in DeKalb Co. and 668-1000 in Steuben Co.
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