Many of us see insects as pesky, flying critters or unwanted, home-invading creatures, but if you ask me, bugs have gotten a bum rap! Savvy gardeners know that some bugs are incredibly beneficial to the garden. In fact, some insects are essential for growing our food.
Beneficial insects can help us to pollinate our crops and even to keep other, less wholesome bugs at bay. In other words, it pays to create an inviting habitat that is friendly to our favorite insects.
Bees are perhaps the most well-known of the beneficial insects. Hearing that steady hum in our garden lets us know that flowers are being pollinated, which is essential for the formation of many fruits. You can lure a host of native bees — as well as Apis mellifera, the European honeybee — to your garden by planting nectar rich flowers among the other plants in your garden.
Flowers like gaillardia, beebalm, chives, cosmos, echinacea, snapdragons and zinnias are all beloved by bees. Pollinators find heirloom flowers ultra alluring because they are often richer in nectar and pollen and hybrid blooms, which tend to be bred for bigger, fuller flower heads and smaller nectary glands.
Predatory insects — the ones that eat, kill or ward off your “bad bugs” — can also be a major benefit to your garden. You can literally hire a legion of hit men to take out your most unwanted garden pests, and the only cost is planting a few flowers to attract these helpful predators.
For example, larval stage lady beetles have a voracious appetite for aphids, mealbugs and mites. The adult beetles like to land on large, dish shaped flowers like cosmos and marigolds. They also love yarrow and chives.
The lacewing bug will rove your garden picking off a range of unwanted pests from mites to leafhoppers and mealy bugs. The Lacewing fly is attracted by the large, umbrella-like flowers of plants in the carrot family such as fennel, dill, coriander and caraway.
Aside from selecting beneficial, insect friendly plants, it is important to never use broad spectrum pesticides in the garden. These generalist chemicals will knock out all insects — good and bad. Be sure to avoid buying seeds that have been treated with neonicotinoid pesticides, as they become systemic in the plant and are harmful to bees.
Choosing native plants and a wide diversity of crops is another way to invite good bugs to your garden.
Finally, perhaps the easiest measure is to allow your lawn and garden to get a bit “wild.” Bare ground and perfect weed maintenance will only leave fewer nooks and crannies for your good bugs to make their new home.
Still not sure what you should be planting to invite beneficial insects into your garden? Have you successfully attracted some natural pollinators and want to share your story? We'd love to continue the conversation.