Beneficial Bugs.... You mean they're not all bad?

Get the spray, I see a spider (insert roach, ants, caterpillar)... Run, there are wasps in the garden... Oooo! It's a stink bug, step on it - wait, no! Don't!

Living in the South, you've most likely heard or beckoned these same phrases on occasion, especially during summer months. Warm, moist air allows comfortable breeding ground for many types of ornamental insects. And with generally mild winters, insect eggs are not killed as in more Northern climates and overwinter in our gardens and on the foliage of shrubs. As such, we seasonally face challenges with pest and insect infestation on landscape ornamentals, vegetables and fruit plants.

In the spirit of living what I believe to be important, I've come accustomed to inviting insects into the garden to prey on other insects. Don't get me wrong, undoubtedly it is easier and more instantly gratifying to whip out the Ortho spray and dose everything with chemical that will definitely wipe out the problem. I've been there... done that...many days gone by, I'll say. But what's better for our health, our children's health, the environment, the future? Reduction of synthetic pesticides and chemicals in our homes and in our landscapes. When conventional pesticides are implemented to control any specific pest, the unintended result is that beneficial insects and soil organisms are also affected. (Nevermind the toxic chemical effect that lingers.) Immediately, it's noticeable that the aphids or whiteflies are dead, but so are the ladybugs and green lacewings which were already working hard at controlling the unwanted invaders.

It's about resetting the expectation about the garden and landscape that will allow you to accept the notion of beneficial insects. It is not as important that every single plant be entirely pest free as it is that the population of undesirable pests is managed naturally by the balance ecosystem. Integrated pest management suggests the flexibility of multiple methods of pest control. As a Southern gardener, I've come to appreciate the benefit that many insects bring to the garden and landscape. I look upon certain garden pests as afflictions, really. When my tomatoes are repeatedly eaten and infested by Tomato Hornworms and my bean plants are overrun by Mexican Bean Beetles, it's frustrating! However, these days I look to biological controls.

In order to make this transition from conventional control to biological control successful, a diverse habitat is required. By planting a broad range of perennials, herbs and flowering shrubs there should be plenty of sources for food, shelter and reproduction. It's important to be sure that flowering times are varied throughout the season to invite a wide range of insects. Host plants are interplanted in the edible garden as well as in the landscape

to attract beneficals throughout. There are beneficial insect attractants, such as pheromone products used to draw in ladybugs, lacewings and hover flies, as well as attractants simulating the scents of feeding pest insects. Many gardeners find benefit in introducing these pests as imports from insectaries. Some beneficial insects are purchased as adults; others are purchased as larvae or nymphs or eggs. They arrive packaged in cool packs or portable coolers and come with instructions for the method of release into the area of intended population.

No matter your situation, a newly converted organic/natural gardener, an experienced gardener seeking additional support to your IPM or anywhere in between, beneficial insects can only increase the success you have controlling unwanted insects in the garden. I highly recommend that you search online for insectaries from which to purchase beneficial insects. Identify what pests you are combating - or hire a skilled professional to assist you in this - and understand what good bugs will aid you in controlling the population. You and your ladybugs will be happy that you made the extra effort!

Stay tuned for more great organic landcare techniques and suggestions to come!


Betsey Norton is an Environmental Horticulturist and holds certification in Sustainable Urban Landscaping. Having worked in the field of horticulture since the late nineties, Betsey has experience in many aspects of the industry. Working her way through college in nurseries and doing landscaping, she gained a true passion for "all things green". Upon graduation, Betsey helped build, grow and manage a start-up perennial propagation farm and retail nursery. At the tender age of 21, she earned the ...

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