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Beneficial Insects as Natural Pest Control 

Did you know that nature has its own pest control service? It’s true! A diverse array of beneficial insects are nature’s “secret weapon” in the garden. They will do the heavy lifting in controlling garden pests if you let them.

Gardening for Beginners: Beneficial Insects as Pest Control 
Assasin nymph on rose

Beneficial insects are organic gardeners’ best friends, helping to maintain a healthy balance in the garden ecosystem. This blog post will help you identify these insects, understand their role in pest control, and provide tips for encouraging beneficial insects in your garden.

Lacewing eggs on tomatillo with cucumber beetles
Lacewing eggs on tomatillo infested with cucumber beetles

A Natural Approach to Pest Control: Identify the Bugs in Your Garden

The first step in utilizing beneficial insects and bugs as pest control is learning to identify the good bugs from the bad. In gardening, insects are a natural part of the ecosystem. While some can harm your garden, many are beneficial and vital to maintaining a healthy balance.

Praying mantis on feverfew
Praying mantis on feverfew

When you notice an insect, take time to identify it. Believe it or not, ninety-nine percent of insects are beneficial or benign, and only one percent are harmful–it can feel like more than that sometimes!1

Lacewing eggs and aphids on leaf
Lacewing eggs and aphids on leaf

Technology has made identifying insects much easier. You can now use the camera on your iPhone or Android phone to take a picture of the insect and use Visual Lookup or Google Lens feature to identify it. There are also user-friendly apps such as Seek and Bug ID that can be used for this purpose. Additionally, image searches on Google can help identify pests and insects that you come across. 

Bug ID to help identify pests and beneficial insects

The Importance of Daily Observation

Monitoring your garden daily is crucial, especially during peak pest seasons. Regular observation can help you catch pest problems early on. You may not intervene, but you will know what is happening. 

Ladybug on aphid infested sunflower
Ladybug on aphid-infested sunflower

Daily monitoring also provides an excellent opportunity to observe the natural cycles of insects in your garden. Understanding the lifecycle of beneficial insects and their patterns in your garden will help you encourage their presence.

Garden Journal
Garden Journal

Keep a garden journal or take pictures of insects throughout the year so you can look back and identify the patterns that emerge in your garden’s ecosystem.


The Role of Beneficial Insects in Natural Pest Control

Beneficial insects, like assassin bugs, lacewings, and syrphid flies, play a significant role in maintaining balance in the garden. These insects act as organic pest controllers, feeding on various pests and their eggs. 

Assassin bugs help control nearly any insect, including hornworms, beetles, aphids, and caterpillars.1

Gardening for Beginners: Beneficial Insects as Pest Control 
Four Spurred Assassin Bug

Lacewings help manage aphids, beetle larvae, mealybugs, spider mites, caterpillars, whiteflies, and more.1

Gardening for Beginners: Beneficial Insects as Pest Control 
Green Lacewing

Praying mantis can help with moths, crickets, grasshoppers, flies, beetles, and caterpillars.1

Gardening for Beginners: Beneficial Insects as Pest Control 
Praying Mantis

Spiders help manage insect eggs, beetles, aphids, cutworms, fire ants, bugs, mites, caterpillars, and more.1

Gardening for Beginners: Beneficial Insects as Pest Control 
Arabesque Orbweaver

Syrphid flies help with aphids, young cabbage worms, thrips, leafhoppers, scales, mealy bugs, and many small caterpillars.1

Syrphid-fly
Syrphid Fly

Tachinid flies can help with caterpillars, beetles, cutworms, bugs, larvae, squash bugs, and more.1

Tachinid Fly
Tachinid Fly

Parasitoid wasps manage aphids, beetle larvae, cabbage worms, beetles, cutworms, leafminers, mealybugs, squash vine borers, hornworms, flies, bugs, whiteflies, and many more.1

Parasitoid wasps
Parasitoid Wasps

Don’t Interfere in the Predator-Prey Cycle

The predator-prey cycle is at the heart of natural pest control. In this cycle, the prey (pests) attract predators (beneficial insects) by providing them with food. The predators, in turn, keep the pest populations in check, preventing damage to your garden.

Ladybug larvae on bolted parsley
Ladybug larvae on bolted parsley

For instance, ladybugs are attracted to gardens with a high aphid population, which they feed on. By preying on the aphids, ladybugs help control their population. Similarly, lacewings are attracted to aphid colonies, which they feed on, thus reducing the aphid population. Learn more about ladybugs in this blog post.

Lacewing Eggs on a sunflower infested with aphids
Lacewing eggs on a sunflower infested with aphids

In this cycle, pest and predator populations fluctuate but are never zero. We may begin noticing pests just as their numbers peak, which is the level that will lure beneficial insects. If we insert ourselves and eliminate the pests, it disrupts the cycle. Instead, be patient and give the beneficial insects time. They will come!1

Spider on gazania
Spider on gazania

This cycle underscores the importance of biodiversity in the garden. A diverse range of plants provides various food sources for insects and offers a variety of habitats for them to live in. This, in turn, encourages the presence of a diverse range of insects, including the beneficial ones that help with pest control.


Encouraging Beneficial Insects in Your Garden

There are several ways you can encourage beneficial insects in your garden. First, you can provide them with the food they love. Planting various herbs and flowers that bloom at different times can attract and support beneficial insect populations. Learn more about which plants will help attract beneficials in this blog post.

Assassin bug nymph on bolted parsley
Assassin bug nymph on bolted parsley

Second, avoid using pesticides, even organic ones. While pesticides may kill harmful insects, they also harm the beneficial ones, disrupting the ecosystem’s delicate balance. Pesticides can also lead to the development of pesticide resistance in pests, creating a new set of problems.1

Praying mantis on rudbeckia
Praying mantis on rudbeckia

Additionally, you may choose to introduce beneficial insects into your garden. If you do this, consider a beneficial insect subscription service from Heirloom Roses, which gets its insects from trusted insectories. These introduced insects can help bolster populations throughout the season. Do not purchase ladybugs from local nurseries. Learn why in this blog post.

Green Lacewing Eggs on Card from Heirloom Roses
Green lacewing larva on a card from Heirloom Roses

In conclusion, understanding the role of beneficial insects in pest control and taking steps to encourage their presence can lead to a more balanced and sustainable garden. By avoiding the use of pesticides and creating a diverse, insect-friendly environment, you can enjoy a thriving garden without the need for harmful chemicals.


Reference

1. Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden, A Natural Approach to Pest Control, Jessica Walliser.

Further Reading

Plant Partners, Science-Based Companion Planting Strategies for the Vegetable Garden, Jessica Walliser.

The Organic Gardener’s Handbook of Natural Pest and Disease Control, A Rodale Organic Gardening Book. Edited by Fern Marshall Bradley, Barbara W. Ellis, and Deborah L. Martin.


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