Beneficial Garden Insects

Have you seen any baby ladybugs in your garden? Ladybugs are by far one of the most beneficial garden insects to have around your home.

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They may be on your plants right now, quietly working for you in a miniature drama as they rid your plants of aphids, spider mites and other small insects. Adult ladybugs also dine on insects, but it's their young - the larvae - that are the most voracious killers.

Adult ladybugs will seek out plants that are infected with aphids and then lay clusters of their tiny yellow eggs on the plant. Within a few days the tiny ladybug larvae hatch and begin hunting for food.

Ladybug larvae look much like tiny black alligators with orange stripes or spots on their backs. When they first hatch, they are no larger than this comma , but they grow quickly and aggressively search for food.

Recently I noticed a heavy aphid population on the new growth of a Rose of Sharon shrub. I also noticed some ladybugs on the plant, so instead of spraying the plant with an insecticide, I decided to watch Nature take its course. Soon I observed many ladybug larvae scouring the plant and within a week there were no more aphids. These little beneficial bugs do a great job!

There are other beneficial garden insects that will help you keep a healthy garden. It's important to recognize these beneficial bugs so they aren't inadvertently destroyed. Many of them have the appearance of being harmful, but they really aren't unless you're an aphid or spider mite.

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Plenty of other beneficial garden insects may be in your garden hunting for prey that would otherwise eat your plants. The green or brown lacewing is another beneficial insect that does a great job of eating garden pests. Like ladybugs, it is the lacewing larvae that are the most voracious predators. Lacewing larvae look somewhat like tiny green alligators with jaws that look like pincers. The larvae use these pincers to grab and hold their lunch. Lacewings are a good all-purpose beneficial insect for the garden, as they will dine on aphids, mealybugs, thrips, spider mites and immature scales and whiteflies.

Hoverflies are an interesting beneficial insect. At first glance, hoverflies look somewhat like small bees, but they move more like flies and they tend to hover before they land. Hoverflies seek out aphids and lay their eggs near an aphid infestation. When the eggs hatch, the hoverfly larvae go to work, devouring up to sixty aphids each per day.

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There are also wasps that are beneficial. These tiny wasps won't sting people, so they are a welcome addition to any garden as they seek out damaging insects. Two of the more common beneficial wasps are Trichogramma and braconid wasps. Trichogramma wasps attack caterpillars such as corn earworms, cabbage worms and tent caterpillars. Look for Trichogramma pretiosum wasps to prey on insects in crops that are less than five feet above the ground, while Trichogramma minutum will prey on tent caterpillars and others that damage tree crops. Trichogramma wasps parasitize caterpillars by laying their eggs in moth and butterfly eggs.

Braconid wasps are larger than Trichogramma wasps, and they lay their eggs directly on caterpillars. When the wasp eggs hatch, the young either kill the caterpillar or make it stop feeding. A parasitized tomato hornworm will have what looks like tiny white grains of rice stuck upright on its back. These little hitchhikers are braconid wasp cocoons. Don't kill hornworms that have these cocoons on them, they will die soon enough thanks to the wasps. And once the wasps emerge from the cocoons they will continue to attack more plant-eating caterpillars.

Beneficial wasps should be released into the garden only when a caterpillar infestation is present or expected. If there is no prey for these beneficial insects in the garden, they will move on to another area where they can find food.

Beneficial garden insects can be purchased from a beneficial insectary if an infestation requires immediate attention, or you can attract them to your garden by providing the type of plants the adult insects need. Many adult beneficial insects eat pollen and nectar. They have small mouth parts, so tiny flowers are easier for them to manage. Flowers in the carrot and aster families are particularly attractive to a variety of beneficial insects. If you grow carrots, leave a few in the ground to bloom and go to seed the second year. Cilantro flowers are also favored by beneficial insects, along with fennel, parsley and dill. Queen Anne's Lace is often thought of as a weed, but this wild carrot relative will also attract beneficial bugs.

Tubular flowers, such as foxglove or lilacs, also attract beneficial insects who like to crawl inside to get a drink of nectar.

Clover will attract beneficial insects to the garden, along with bees for pollination. But beneficial insects are not attracted to frilly double flowers such as double petunias or hollyhocks, because it is too difficult for them to reach the pollen in a double blossom. It is important to provide a variety of flowers that bloom at different times throughout the season to attract the most beneficial insects to the garden.

Of course, bees are also considered beneficial insects because they pollinate flowers for us. Without bees and other beneficial garden insects, the world would be not nearly as beautiful.

To learn more about beneficial insects and to see photos of the good guys of the insect world, go to this page: http://entweb.clemson.edu/eiis/pdfs/bb1.pdf

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