Attracting Beneficial Insects To Your Garden

Anyone who has gardened will be familiar with insects. You may not know them by name, but you know that they can do a lot of damage to plants, sometimes destroying them completely. But not all insects are bad. There are many beneficial insects that can help to fight those plant-eating insects in your garden. You can attract beneficial insects to your garden by providing specific plants just for them. Beneficial insects are like teenage boys. If you feed them, they will keep coming back for more.

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Some beneficial insects are voracious killers mainly when they are young, in their juvenile or larval stage of life. Ladybugs and lacewings are aggressive hunters in their juvenile stage but they become less interested in eating other insects when they are adults. When attracting beneficial insects, the goal is to entice the adults into your garden by providing them with a nursery where they can lay their eggs and also by offering flowers that will provide the adults with nectar to drink.

There are a large variety of common plants and flowers that attract beneficial insects. Beneficial insects are not only attracted to plants which are infected with their insect prey, but they also tend to be selective about the plants on which they lay their eggs. Some of these plants may already be in your garden, and others are a worthy addition.

Caterpillars, leafhoppers, beetles, moths and grubs are attacked by tiny parasitic wasps. Because they are so tiny themselves, parasitic wasps prefer tiny flowers when they want a drink of sweet nectar. Parasitic wasps will frequent a garden that features some yarrow, dill, parsley or fennel, Queen Anne's Lace, cosmos, zinnias or tansy. After they've had a drink of nectar, they may stick around long enough to lay their eggs on the body of an unsuspecting caterpillar which will then be parasitized when those eggs hatch.

Plants with umbrella-shaped flowers are very attractive to a number of beneficial insects. Queen Anne's Lace and dill are examples of plants that produce blooms with an umbrella shape.

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Green or brown lacewings and ladybugs will also appreciate the same umbrella-shaped flowers. They also like cosmos, prairie sunflower, cilantro and even dandelions and alfalfa. Lacewings prefer to lay their eggs in shady areas that are protected from the weather. They'll be happy to find some of their favorite plants in a quiet, protected corner of the garden. Lacewings lay single eggs on their favorite host plants, with each tiny egg appearing on the end of a thin thread attached to a leaf. Learn to recognize the beneficial insects in your garden in both their adult and larval stages so you don't inadvertently destroy these little garden helpers.

Various herbs are attractive to some beneficial insects. Adding some herbs here and there amongst your flowers or vegetables will surely lure some beneficial insects to work for you in your garden. Lemon balm, pennyroyal, spearmint, dill, caraway, cilantro, lavender and parsley will attract hoverflies, parasitic wasps and tachinid flies. Tachinid flies look like hairy house flies, and they lay their eggs on caterpillars that can do a lot of damage in a garden. Tachinid fly larvae will destroy corn earworms, cabbage worms, armyworms, and other fly larvae.

Let's not forget garden spiders. Garden spiders feed exclusively on other insects, although they tend to not be as selective as other beneficial insects. Most often, they'll devour whatever insect happens to get trapped in their web. But spiders are also beneficial and should be allowed to hunt their prey in the garden. If there's a big garden spider on a web in your garden and spiders give you the creeps, just make a mental note of where it is residing and avoid that little corner of the garden until the spider moves on. Spiders are naturally attracted to areas where they will find food, so it isn't necessary to do anything special to attract them.

Providing the proper plants for their food is just one step toward attracting beneficial insects to your garden. If you want to encourage beneficial insects to work in your garden it is important to avoid using chemical insecticides. Chemical insecticides are not selective and will kill both harmful and beneficial insects. Many organic insecticides are selective, and when used properly they will not harm the beneficial insects. If you can attract a good balance of beneficial insects to your garden, you may never again find the need to use chemical insecticides.

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