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Attracting Beneficial Insects

Yes, there are good bugs - and you need them

Ladybug, ladybug fly away home? No, ask her to stay! Ladybugs and most other insects do not feed on or harm plants. Many are just passing through or have harmless habits. Beneficial insects help in a variety of ways. Some are flower pollinators, others feed on or are parasites of insects we consider pests.

Ladybugs, spiders, and beetles are just a few of the many helpful insects. Bees and butterflies are pollinators. Predator species eat their prey and include praying mantis and ladybugs. Many tiny species of wasps and flies are parasites that lay eggs in the larvae of other insects and then feed on them when they hatch.

There are a number of ways in which you can encourage beneficial insects to your yard, porch, or balcony.

Provide:

A source of food. Plant pollen and nectar plants to attract beneficial insects. Once the adults are attracted to a garden they are likely to stay and lay their eggs there. The small flowers of dill, parsley, caraway, catnip, lemon balm, thyme, and other herbs provide food for tiny parasites that might drown in the nectar of larger flowers. Some attractive flowering plants that provide a source of either nectar, pollen, or both include daisies, alyssum, marigolds, and salvia.

Shelter. Leave some leaf litter or provide mulch for your garden beds or potted plants. Mulch not only helps to retain moisture but also provides a place for insects to hide and a place to escape from the heat on a hot sunny day.

Water. Bird baths or small shallow containers can provide a source of water for insects. This is especially important during dry weather. Change the water in the containers every 2-3 days to discourage mosquitoes from breeding in standing water. Sticks or pebbles placed in the water serve as perches for insects so they won't drown.

If possible, grow a variety of plants to support a variety of insects. Don't use chemicals. If you must apply pesticides, try using something less toxic such as insecticidal soap. Pesticides can harm or kill beneficial insects along with the pests.

Remembering to provide for the beneficial insects may not solve all of your pest problems, but it should be a big help. Who knows, you may discover the variety of insects visiting your plants to be as fascinating as the plants themselves!