Earth Day: Attracting Beneficial Insects
Last year my husband came home panicking about the ‘bugs’ all over our plum tree. We only have room for one fruit tree so any chance that we may not get to eat all those amazing Italian Prune Plums is reason to panic. But these bugs I was aware of and I had actually been allowing to multiply because it was an aphid colony. Why on earth would I ever WANT aphids (aka plant lice), the tiny soft-bodied flies that suck all the precious juices from your plants? Well, because they attract beneficial insects to the garden.
Setting up an area of your garden, or a plant placed somewhere strategically, where pests are allowed will help to attract beneficial insects such as ladybugs, spiders, hoverflies and parasitic wasps to dine on them. I plant a few Shasta Daisies around the garden as aphid nurseries because aphids love them. A colony of the little green monsters will cover my Shastas and in no time the whole garden is being trolled by aphid hunters. This is particularly helpful near my lettuce garden, as the parasitic wasps and hoverflies zip in and between the lettuce leaves effectively cleaning my greens before I even pick them.
The aphids on my plum tree, however, don’t even get a chance to touch a leaf of plum because once the ladybug eggs hatch it’s covered with alligator-like larvae that can eat hundreds of aphids a day. By the time they pupate and become the beetles we are all familiar with, they have spit shined my plum tree without a sign of a pest. And of course my plum would never even set fruit if it wasn’t for pollinators so I make sure there are lots of flowers for the bees as well.
The lesson here in organic gardening is to do what you can to let nature take care of the problem. Plant flowers for pollinators, start an aphid nursery, and give beneficial insects a few extra weeks to arrive before you attack pests on your plants. If it becomes a fight and you are not winning, then perhaps it’s time to considering making a change to what and where you plant. Gardening should be about nurturing not napalm.
Happy Earth Day.