As a child, I had a pathological fear of any insects or spiders I encountered in the house. I was fine with the giant garden spider that hung out in her orb web over my mother’s iris bed, but anything entering the home sent me into hysterical weeping and demands of action of my parental units to eliminate the perceived threat. Fortunately, I have outgrown this phobia, and as an adult I even hate dispatching black widows and yellowjackets, although I do this if they pose a threat to my grandchildren.
How did this miraculous transformation come about? Education. The understanding of the importance of all life to well-functioning ecosystems has changed the way I view the world.
Unfortunately, many people still have that knee-jerk reaction that I had as a child to most invertebrates they see in their yards and homes. And the response is to reach for the bottle of insect spray so easily found at every nursery and big box store or to call pest control. This is a plea to everyone to please stop and consider the role these creatures play in nature’s functioning. When you spray for one insect, you are killing all others in the vicinity, and thereby eliminating potential beneficial insects that might assist you in maintaining the health of your garden.
We are all familiar with ladybugs and praying mantids as good guys, but there are so many more. We will begin with the predators. By way of introduction, here are a few examples:
Lacewings & Snakeflies
The larvae of both are voracious predators of aphids, whiteflies, leafhopper nymphs, scale, spider mites and more. Look for lacewing eggs laid on stalks in your yard.
Our second most important pollinators are the flies. Larvae eat garden pest species, while the adults are nectar feeders on small, shallow flowers in the Brassicaceae, Apiaceae, and Asteraceae families.
True bugs – Minute Pirate bug, Big-Eyed Bug and Damsel Bug
All eat a wide variety of pests, in all stages of their life cycle. To attract these, plant marigolds, native goldenrod, native biscuitroot, native buckwheat, cosmos, or native yarrow.
Beetles: Ladybug, Rove Beetle, Soldier Beetle, and Ground Beetle.
Ditch the sprays and encourage these hunting insects by providing rock and wood piles for habitat and leaving the leaves to over winter under your shrubs and trees. Plant native bunch grasses, native ground covers and native perennial plants near these “beetle berms.” They will reward you with a garden with far fewer pest species. A yard in balance does not need poisons.
In the coming editions of the Garden Beet, I will talk about two remaining groups of beneficial insects: parasitoids and pollinators.