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The Beneficial Insects You Want to Have in Your Garden

Do you feel squeamish around bugs? Don’t be! There are so many beneficial insects out there that help protect your garden from potentially damaging pests. This post will help you get to know the good bugs you absolutely want in your garden!

Learn to Identify the GOOD BUGS in your garden

Did you know that most insects are not pests at all? Unfortunately, “bugs” get a bad rap just because they are weird-looking. In practice, many garden insects act as free garden labour, and they are worth getting to know.

The Plight of Bugs

Too many kids and adults are afraid of bugs and it’s a crying shame. This idea that our homes and gardens should not have any insects is unhealthy for our beautiful earth and all of us who live here.

The Windshield Phenomenon

I remember as a child going for drives in the car and having the windshield covered with smushed flying insects. We used to make jokes like, “Ew, that was a juicy one.” The windshield fluid was used more for cleaning up bug parts than anything else.

While I didn’t revel in seeing insects die such a gruesome death, I sure miss those times now.

I almost never see a bug on my windshield when I’m driving now. This absence even has a name: The Windshield Phenomenon and it’s very concerning.

essential guide to lavender: bumble bee on Spanish lavender

Protecting the Most Beloved Beneficial Insect: Bees

It wasn’t that long ago that bees were almost universally feared.

Thankfully, the plight of the most well-known beneficial insects, bees, is becoming pretty mainstream now. Many folks have made a big change from fearing bees to wanting to support and protect them.

Like most gardeners and farmers, I love bees and welcome them into my garden. I roll out the red carpet of bee-friendly plants, installing a bee bath, and providing overwintering spaces.

Most of all, I never, ever spray pesticides in my garden. All insects are vulnerable to insecticides, whether they are helpful predators like ladybugs, essential pollinators like bees, or pests like aphids. Instead, I opt to use a DIY herb-based pest deterrent.

The 3 Types of Beneficial Insects

It’s never been a more important time than now to learn about how to attract and protect good bugs into your garden. There are three types of beneficial insects you could find in your yard:

  1. Pollinators
  2. Predators
  3. Parasitoids

I’ve written a lot about pollinators in the past, so today I would like you to meet some of the latter two, the predators and parasitoids. These beneficial insects act as crowd control for aphids, leafhoppers, mites, thrips, and more potentially damaging pests.

I am excited to introduce you to some of the other good guys in the garden.

Bees are hardworking pollinators but there are a bunch of other good bugs that you should also be inviting and celebrating in your garden.

Garden Alchemy Cover

Beneficial Insects: Predator Bugs

Predatory bugs help to keep pest populations down. In my book, Garden Alchemy I wrote: “You don’t have an aphid infestation, you have a ladybug scarcity.”

To control the pests that you are battling with, look for how you can invite predators. That way, the pest control happens while you put up your feet and sip sweet tea. It sounds like a win to me!

Beneficial Insects You Want in Your Garden

It’s hard to narrow down this list of beneficial insects to just a few. However, I chose these because they are common and more well-known then some of their counterparts.

These are just some of the key groups to watch for this summer. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but an introduction to some of the great biodiversity keeping pests in check in your home landscape.

Additionally, I want to share a fantastic resource I have used to learn all about beneficial insects. Some of the info in this post comes from a fantastic book, Good Garden Bugs: Everything You Need to Know About Beneficial Predatory Insects written by Mary Gardiner, Associate Professor, Department of Entomology, The Ohio State University. She absolutely knows her stuff and I can’t recommend her book to you enough.

Photos and excerpts printed with permission from Good Garden Bugs: Everything You Need to Know about Beneficial Insects by Mary Gardiner © 2015. Published by Quarry Books.

Now, onto the beneficial insects!

Green Lacewings (Family Chrysopidae)

Green lacewing bug, one of several beneficial insects, resting on a green leaf.

According to Mary, “adult green lacewings have a long slender body and four intricately-veined wings. Depending on the species, adult green lacewings may be predators or pollen feeders. Species of green lacewings are found throughout the US” and Canada.

She shares even more info about why these bugs are so helpful by writing,”all lacewing larvae are voracious predators; their cycle shaped jaws are used to pierce aphids and other soft-bodied prey. They may feed on honeydew, a sugary substance secreted by aphid pests.”

Close up of green lacewing eggs on a leaf

Be sure to keep an eye out for their eggs when doing garden work (see image above). They are up on tall strands like this to protect the eggs from predators but also from their kin! The greenwing larva are such vigorous predators, they would even eat each other if in the way.

Hover Flies or Flower Flies (Family: Syrphidae)

Hover Fly
Photo: D. Shetlar

This family is one of the most common beneficial insects you will find in the garden. Hover flies are also one of my favourite garden visitors because of how they hover in the air when flying – it’s such fun to watch! They almost look like miniature hummingbirds. Hover flies also are pollinators, so they are doubly beneficial!

Mary writes, “They get their name from their ability to hover in midair and make quick motions while darting among flowers hunting for prey. Adults range from 4-24 mm and are actually pollinators! They visit flowers and consume pollen and nectar as they perform this important service.

Many species look similar to bees or wasps, but you can distinguish these flies as they only have a total of two wings, while bees and wasps have four. Hover fly females lay eggs in patches of aphids, whiteflies, and other soft-bodied pests. Their slug-like larva hatch and develop by preying upon these pests.”

Ichneumon Wasps (Family: Ichneumonidae)

Photo: Roy Cohuta Brown

“This is a large and diverse family of parasitoid wasps with thousands of species present in the US. Ichneumons are parasitoids; a female will search for arthropod prey and deposit one or more eggs in or on located hosts using her ovipositor. Offspring develop by feeding on the host, eventually killing it. Many species in this family have a long ovipositor that looks like a stinger that could harm humans. This is NOT the case: female parasitoid wasps cannot sting people or pets and pose no threat. Hosts of ichneumons vary by species and include caterpillars and beetle larvae. Giant ichneumon females (Megaryssa) reach up to 11.5 cm in length with their ovipositor! These wasps attack horntail sawfly larvae found inside trees.” 

Lady Beetles (Family: Coccinellidae)

Close up of a ladybug with red exterior and black spots sitting on a leaf.

Whether you know them as ladybugs, lady bird beetles, or lady beetles, these predators are voracious predators of aphids, spider mites, thrips, and scales.

“Across the US a high diversity of lady beetle species can be found in home landscapes. Some forage for aphids in trees such as the eye spotted lady beetle and twice-stabbed lady beetle. The pink lady beetle is common within vegetable gardens where it feeds on crop pests and corn pollen. Lady beetle larvae are also predaceous and consume 100s of prey to complete their development”, according to Mary.

“Unfortunately, lady beetles have gotten a bad rap as of late due to the introduction of the multicolored Asian lady beetle into the US. Although an effective predator, this species a nuisance because it invades homes to overwinter. Importantly, some exotic lady beetle species have also been implicated in the decline of our native fauna.”

Read more about ladybugs and how to attract these beneficial insects to your garden here.

Minute Pirate Bugs or Flower Bugs (Family: Anthocoridae)

“This family includes several species of common, tiny predators that attack aphids, scales, spider mites, thrips, small caterpillars and insect eggs. Those in the genus Orius measure 3 to 6 mm in length, and have a dark head and forewings with light and dark patches. Orius species can be found throughout the US. Look for these predators foraging on plants or feeding on pollen and nectar within open flowers. During the heat of the day the often seek refuge in developing leaves that have not completely unfurled. Both adults and developing nymphs feed on prey.”

Minute Pirate Bug
Photo: Scott Justus

Garden Spiders (Family: Araneidae)

The final beneficial is not listed in Mary’s book but they are one of my most welcome visitors.

Garden spiders are, as the name suggests, often found in gardens. They can also be called orb weavers because they make the most beautiful and intricate orb-shaped webs.

Orb weaver garden spider in the center of its web.

Every year in October (near Halloween) I do a talk for kids on garden spiders and how much I love them. The talk should probably be in June because that is when the garden spiders hatch here and my garden is covered in tripwire webs around every corner! I let the spiders hatch and eventually they move on, but for a few weeks there are so many babies.

Hatched baby spiders clustered in a ball together

There are so many reasons that spiders are excellent for your yard. I like them in my garden because they catch and eat mosquitoes! The more spiders, the merrier, I say.

Close up of a garden spider in the center of a web.

There is a lot of fascinating info out there about spiders. I particularly found this article educational and enlightening. For example, did you know that not all spiders spin webs? It’s true! Some spiders simply prefer to chase their prey down by foot rather than entangle them in webs. Again, the more the merrier I say!

More Posts About Beneficial Insects:

 

Comments

  1. I love this article. This is so much informative and surely would help gardeners a lot to clear their misconceptions about bugs. We should not forget that our garden is not just about plants, its about the ecosystem and all creatures have their importance to keep the balance of our garden ecosystem. Definitely we have get rid of the bad bugs to protect our plants , but we must find out a prudent and selective way for that.
    Though I sometimes spray chemical insecticides, but always bear a repentance in heart.
    I prefer the herbal pesticides using Garlic, Neem and turmeric, but cant make enough to spray thoroughly.

    But your article has compelled me rethink and to find a healthy and an eco friendly option.

    Thank you

    Reply

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