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What Are Beneficial Insects?
Beneficial insects are insects that provide a positive benefit to man. The simplest way to invite beneficial insects into your home or garden is to plant flowering plants. The primary insect that we consider beneficial is the Honey Bee, but there are thousands of other insects that are also very beneficial. The Honey Bee is valued because she is a pollinator and her work improves our crop yield for both commercial farmers and home gardeners. Pollinators, as a group, include butterflies, moths, flies, beetles, and mammals such as bats and birds. Another group of beneficial insects is the predatory insects. These insects do an excellent job of keeping pest insect populations under control. Hemiptera is the scientific name given to true bugs, and these insects are mostly pests. They are identified by their mouth, which is piercing/sucking in nature. The Aphid is a Hemiptera and every gardener should be familiar with the damage that aphids cause. Stick Bugs are also Hemiptera, and they use their piercing sucking mouth to damage plants, vegetables, and fruit. The assassin bug is a beneficial Hemiptera that preys upon pests such as the aphid and the stick bug.
The Balance of Nature
The idea that needs to be conveyed to anyone who is hoping to attract beneficial insects to their yard or garden is that nature always finds a balance. In this case, it is important to define the role or benefit that insect will either hold or produce. If your garden is suffering from pests, then there is very little that you can do to attract an insect that will actually benefit from your pest population. This is why so many people turn to pesticides as a means of controlling pest insects. The problem with pesticides is that they are non-discriminating, and they kill off all of the insects, not just the pests. Say goodbye to the Honey Bee. There are, however, things that the gardener can do to help control pest populations. Lady bugs, which are actually beetles, (not bugs) can be purchased in the spring at local nurseries. Buy more than you think you will need for your garden because Lady Bugs migrate. This helps you because they will fly away to neighboring properties and begin to eat the pests that are there. That action will help you in the long-run because pest insects migrate toward food sources such as your garden. Another beneficial insect to consider is the Praying Mantis. This is a top line predator that eats larger insects such as Larvae, Beetles, Stink Bugs, Crickets and Grasshoppers, and have even been known to catch and eat rodents.
Know Your Pest
This brings us to another aspect or consideration of attracting beneficial insects. If you have a problem with aphids, the praying mantis is not going to help you. If you have a problem with pests that are larger than the Ladybug, then she is not going to help you. Use this information to your advantage when purchasing beneficial insects. These types of beneficial insects are called Biological Controls and their jobs are to hunt and destroy pests.
The Relationship Between Insects and Plants
If the beneficial insects that you are trying to attract are pollinators, then the easiest way to do this is to purchase a package of seeds designed to attract beneficial insects. Another way is to do your research and find out what types of plants each insect prefers. Many insects have evolved to include a specific relationship with plants. The Monarch Butterfly, for example is very picky about where she lays her eggs. She only lays her eggs on the Milkweed plant. This type of relationship is called co-evolution and it simply means that the insect and the plant have developed together into their present forms via that relationship. If you are making a planting specifically for beneficial insects, think about where you are going to put it. Look for an area where the plants could be allowed to go to seed and left standing throughout the winter. This will give the eggs the beneficial insects lay the best chance of survival.
Plants that Attract Beneficial Insects:
Plants such as asters, daisies, and goldenrods are excellent sources of nectar for beneficial insects. Mint, fennel, and dill are just a few of the herbs that attract beneficial insects.
The seven best plants, to grow in your garden, to attract beneficial insects are Centaurea cyanus, commonly known as Bachelor's Buttons, Lobularia maritima commonly known as Sweet Alyssum, Borago officinalis commonly known as Borage, Silphium perfoliatum commonly known as Cup Plant, Agastache foeniculum commonly known as Anise Hyssop, Anthemis tinctoria commonly known as Golden Marguerite and Foeniculum vulgare commonly known as Fennel.
Bachelor's Buttons is an old time cottage garden plant that many people still grow in their garden today. The seeds can be direct sown in early spring. It is an annual that sometimes re-seeds. This plant attracts flower flies, ladybugs, lacewings, and beneficial wasps. The best part is the beneficial insects can get nectar from the leaves on this plant, so it serves a purpose even when it is not in bloom.
Sweet Alyssum is known for attracting flower flies, which feed on aphids. It is a quick growing ground cover that not only helps smother weeds but is highly fragrant. In some climates, it will re-seed.
Borage is an edible herb with beautiful blue star shaped flowers, but use some caution as too much of this plant for human consumption is not a good thing. It can be deadly, in fact. For beneficial insects, especially green lacewings, borage is the plant to have. Studies in Switzerland have shown that as many as 100 beneficial insects can be found in just one square foot of borage plants. If you must choose just one plant to grow to attract beneficial insects, pick Borage.
The advantage of growing Cup Plant in your garden is because the leaves wrap around the plant in such a way that a natural water reservoir is made. This gives both birds, and beneficial insects an easy source of water in the garden and best of all nature will maintain this source so it will be less work for you.
In addition to the licorice scented leaves, Anise Hyssop has flowers that are very rich in nectar making this plant attractive to butterflies and beneficial insects.
Attract ladybugs, lacewings, flower flies tachinid flies and mini-wasps to your garden by planting Golden Marguerite. This plant grows well in poor soils. To get the maximum amount of flowers be sure to keep this plant deadheaded.
Besides being a host plant to the Anise Swallowtail Butterfly Caterpillar, Fennel flowers are known to attract a wide variety of nectar eating beneficial insects. The leaves, seeds and bulb of the plant are edible. Fennel has ferny like foliage in green or bronze, so it is an attractive plant to grow in your garden.
If you are wondering what a beneficial insect garden may look like, be sure to view this short clip on beneficial insect gardens - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gjly6GoS_ng
|Sheri Ann Richerson|