There are more than a million species of insects but only a small percentage will bother our gardens. More than half of all insects are either predators or parasites of other insects. Left alone, the good bugs will usually keep the other insects at a tolerable level. The bad guys always show up first. The good guys wait until dinner is on the table before they arrive, then show up with big appetites.
Ladybugs are good, but the larvae are even better at eating insects. Ladybugs eat aphids, scale, mealy bugs, spider mites and small insect eggs. A single beetle can consume more than 5000 aphids in its life.
Lacewings are green or brown and have lacy wings. The larvae are known as aphid lions because of their voracious appetite for aphids. They can consume up to 100 insects a day.
Praying mantis hold their hands as if in prayer and have a marble-like head. They might be green or tan or will generally match their surroundings to avoid being seen. The egg sacks can be found on fences, swing sets, lawn furniture or tree branches and are a tan, hard, foamy looking capsule. These insects are not the least bit discriminating and will eat harmful insects, beneficial insects and even each other if the pickings are slim. Grasshoppers seem to be a favorite of this insect.
Tiny little wasps called Trichogramma, are parasitic wasps that attack the eggs of more than 200 garden pests. This wasp lays her eggs inside the eggs of other insects. Different types of parasitic insects lay their eggs inside the bodies of other insects and the emerging larvae feed on the insides of the host insect. Yikes!
Dragonflies do more than make a neat tattoo design. They catch insects in mid-air and eat on the run. Mosquitoes and other flies make up a large part of their diet.
Black ground beetles are eating grubs and eggs in the soil.
Yellow jackets and wasps are beneficial, too, as long as they’re not trying to join the picnic. They eat caterpillars and other harmful insects that cause problems.
These insects are commonly seen in our gardens but there are dozens more that we don’t recognize as being good guys. Don’t feel the immediate need to kill every insect you see. Realize that the majority of insects we see are neither good nor bad. They’re just insects.
Beneficial insects should be encouraged. They are free insect control.
Plant things with umbel (think umbrella) type flowers like dill, fennel, Queen Anne’s lace and parsley. This type of flower encourages beneficial insects to take up residence. If you decide to try biological control avoid using insecticides as that will kill the good guys, too.
We’ll never be bug-free, no matter what method of insect control we choose. If we can live with some insect damage, biological pest control is an effective and responsible way to control garden pests.