Among the reasons not to spray your garden with pesticides or general bug killers is that there are some bugs in your garden that are actually helping to keep your plants healthy.
“Good bugs” are all of the little guys that like to eat the types of bugs that eat your plants, and many good bugs also help to pollinate your garden. These insects will help to keep the natural balance and help your crops to flourish. Here are a few of the most beneficial insects for backyard gardening.
Ladybugs – One of the most recognizable garden friends, ladybugs eat other bugs and pollen, and therefore are an ideal gardening companion. Ladybugs particularly enjoy pest insects such as aphids and mites. The red and black circle-shaped insects will often naturally be attracted to your garden, but they can also be purchased in packages and released, which is helpful if you need to combat an infestation quickly. Some plants that are known to attract these helpers include calendula, cilantro, marigold, and chives. Adult ladybugs usually live 4-6 weeks and will lay up to 300 eggs in their lifetime. Ladybugs are voracious little creatures and can eat up to 5,000 aphids during their lifespan.
Lacewings – These striking insects are green with large wings. They are especially effective as larvae, but even as adults they enjoy mites and aphids. They live for 4-6 weeks and lay about 300 eggs before the end of their life. They are a hardy bug, though their effectiveness at pest control can vary greatly depending on their conditions. Ideally, a lacewing larvae will eat up to 200 aphids in a single week.
Ground Beetles – A generic looking beetle with a hard, dark shell, ground beetles start out as larvae which feed on slugs, maggots, and cutworms. They aren’t climbers, but will keep your plants safe from all of the crawly things on the ground. The full life cycle of a beetle takes about a year, and the larval beetle can eat more than 50 caterpillars – quite a feat considering their small size!
Spiders – While spiders are not my favorite arthropods to encounter unexpectedly in the garden, they are remarkably beneficial. Certain types of spiders are poisonous and should be avoided, but some of the common garden varieties are not only not harmful, but true blessings. Spiders feed primarily on insects and they will catch all manner of pests and nuisances in their delicately constructed webs – though this does mean that they can also kill off your other beneficial insects. Spiders live for about a year, depending on the variety. The most common spider in my area, that likes gardens, is the Thinlegged Wolf Spider – but there are probably many more that I don’t even notice as they go about their quiet business.
Honeybees – Don’t forget about the bees! Honeybees are not predators, but they are the insects responsible for the lion’s share of garden pollination. You can keep your own hive, but you can still benefit the bees greatly in your garden without having to invest in a colony. Bees love a wide variety of blossoming plants. If you are trying to attract bees, try putting in plants which bloom in a cycle throughout the summer so they are never without new pollen. Do not over harvest for bouquets, but leave plenty of blossoms behind, and deadhead regularly. Another easy and unexpected way to help bees is to leave a fresh tray of water out, or something like a bird bath, for bees to get some refreshment on their journeys.
Praying Mantis – Long and green with their recognizable front pincers and bright eyes, praying mantis’ are a favorite for many gardeners. Fortunately, they are highly effective predators as well. Like spiders, the downside of mantis’ is that they do not discriminate, eating good and bug insects equally. An adult praying mantis lives about a year, and a female will lay 400 eggs in her life. They are extremely curious creatures and seem to understand the world around them, swiveling their heads a unique 360 degrees to get a view of what is happening – their personalities are a large part of why they are thought of so fondly. A solitary bug, you will usually only see one or two mantis’ in your garden and having one is considered good luck. You can also purchase mantis eggs and hatch them, and I am told they make inquisitive, friendly pets.
So remember, before you spray something to get rid of pests, you can introduce good bugs to protect your plants and give you a little bit of company in the garden.
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