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Beneficials in the Garden
By Kristen Pullen
As we enter the months of July and August, the longer and hotter days will provide the ideal environment for pest populations to increase. However, not all the bugs calling your garden home are the enemy. These helpful bugs are known as beneficials. They are natural predators of garden pests such as aphids, caterpillars, and mites. While some beneficials are naturally present in the environment, there are certain steps you can take to attract more of these useful bugs to your garden.
(Photo credit: John Tann)
Wasps: Not to worry, these wasps do not sting humans. Parasitic wasps prey on aphids and caterpillars by using these pests as a nursery for their young. Be sure to hold off squishing any caterpillars that look like this:
The white objects are the eggs of the beneficial wasp. When the young wasps hatch they will feed on the caterpillar. To attract the adult wasps to your garden, and keep the hatching adults around, you will need to supply them with a nectar source. Shallow flowers provide easy access to nectar for these beneficials. Some good choices to plant are:
Achillea millefolium (common yarrow), such as Achillea Moon Dust
Lobularia maritime (sweet alyssum)
Cosmos bipinnatus (Cosmos)
Anethum graveolens (Dill)
Zinnia elegans (Zinnia)
Ladybugs: Ladybug larvae eat more pests than the adults. The larvae are flightless and black with orange markings. Adult ladybugs will lay their yellowish eggs in clusters on the underside of leaves, and in two to five days the larvae will emerge.
Aphids are the ladybug’s favorite food, but they will also prey upon whiteflies, mites, mealybugs, scale, and other soft-bodied insects. Some plants that attract ladybugs are:
- Veronica spicata (Speedwell), such as The Veronica Moody Blues Series
- Achillea millefolium (common yarrow), such as Achillea Moon Dust
- Anethum graveolens (Dill)
- Helianthus maximilianii (Prairie Sunflower)
Lacewings: Many of the plants listed above are also favorites of Lacewings. These beneficials feed on aphids, mites, and many other small insects, as well as their eggs. Adult lacewings lay their eggs on the end of small white fibers attached to the underside of leaves. The emerging larvae are the ones that feed the most voraciously on pests.
And now for something completely different... Toads:
Toads have a very large appetite for garden pests. A toad will eat a long list of pests including aphids, cutworms, slugs, ants, beetles, and mosquitos. They do most of their hunting at night and like to hide during the day. With this in mind, providing an ideal home for a toad will give them reason to stay in your garden. They like a dark, moist place to hide during the day. This can be provided by a toad house, which many people sell online, or simply turning a broken clay pot upside-down or on its side and burying the bottom half in your soil or mulch. Decorating your own toad house is also a great arts and crafts project to get younger children interested in the garden.
Toads often claim territory and will come back to the same location year after year, with an average lifespan of a decade!
While some pests will still survive, it is always nice to have some help controlling them. The first instinct of many people is to kill any bug they find in their garden, but hopefully these helpful guys have changed your mind. So the next time you are out in your garden make sure to look for these friendly visitors stopping in for a nice meal.