Attract Beneficial Bugs
Step 2 of 30 Steps to a Better Garden
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In the quest of a perfect organic garden, most people strive to attract beneficial insects to their garden to eat the pesky bugs.
You can go and buy praying mantises and ladybugs and release them into your yard, but another way is to invite them in. We do this by planting flowers at the ends and corners of our vegetable garden spaces. In front of our vegetable garden I keep about a 40 foot border of perennial flowers to attract beneficials, but then in our vegetable garden we add in more spots of flowers. This year we are doing both marigolds and sunflowers.
Most any flowers will help, but if you are headed to the nursery to find a few new 6-packs, look for big fat flowers. Think of them as little landing pads for flying bugs to land on. Marigolds, cosmos, bee balms, sunflowers, zinnas anything with a nice big flower head would make a great addition.
Birds are also great at eating the bad bugs, so invite them in with a new bird feeder, bird house or bird bath. And if you set out big tomato cages like we do, you have cat safe bird perches (and, uh, instant bird manure for your tomatoes too).
Bugs you want to see:
Most people who either don’t garden or are new to gardening think of all bugs as ‘pests’, but actually there are ‘beneficial’ insects you want too see:
Honeybees are one of the most important—if not most important—insects you want in your garden. They do all the hard work in going around to each and every flower collecting pollen and mixing it between male and female flowers. These little bees are the ones that transform your flowers into fruit and vegetables. Without them, and we are having to think about those terrible thoughts these days, we’d be running around with paintbrushes pollenating things ourselves. At this time of year you’ll find many resting in flowers and flying comically around with loads of yellow pollen on their legs.
Most people have heard about how ladybugs are beneficial. But did you know that they are beneficial in the larval stage too? They look like little tiny alligators, with six legs and are about a quarter of an inch long. Both the larvae and the mature ladybugs eat aphids, mealybugs and the eggs of many insects. I’ve been finding the ladybugs most commonly on my roses which always have aphids on them.
This bug is one that it’s talked about as much. It’s a soldier beetle. They are about 3/4″ long with black bodies and orange heads. They, like ladybugs each soft bodied insects and their larvae eat smaller insects during their time living in the soil. They also act as pollenators. I commonly find them on our mint plants which also have aphids on them.
So how do you attract these guys to your garden in the first place? Well, you can mail order ladybugs. But we’ve found that simply growing flowers and letting a few vegetables go to flower is the best way to attract them. The more of a mix of food you can provide, the more varietes of insects you’ll attract and the more likely they will be to stay in your garden too.
Scott and Kendra Spencer are a husband and wife team who maintain a modest little third of an acre in Sonoma. With farmers as ancestors and a passion for edibles, they make the most out of what they have. They’ve read countless books, magazines, research documents and articles on organic gardening, but when it comes down to it they are experimenting and finding what works along with the rest of us. Read more at A Sonoma Garden.