Are you finding drooping plants and half-eaten leaves in your carefully tended garden? Sooner or later, every gardener will encounter evidence that undesirable garden pests have arrived. Left unchecked, these creatures have the potential to ruin our gardens.
Going green means we try to use the most natural ways possible of dealing with the challenges around us, and gardening is no exception. When we encounter pests the first impulse is to reach for the deadliest insecticide possible to zap the problem, but doing so has serious unseen consequences both for your garden and for the environment. Your garden ecosystem teems with essential insects, worms, and bacteria that are good for the soil and garden; bombing your plants and flowers with the typical insecticide inflicts massive damage on everything it touches, both good and bad. Those chemicals also leach deep into the soil and eventually get to the water table, adding pollution to water that flows to rivers, lakes, and maybe a glass of water we end up drinking.
This article is first in a series that will look at organic and natural ways of dealing with garden pests.
Let’s take a look at adding or attracting beneficial insects to your garden as a form of natural pest control. The basic approach is to bring in critters that are predators of the bugs afflicting our gardens. This eliminates the pests in the most natural way possible, without adding any chemicals at all to the environment.
There are four beneficial insects you should attempt to attract to your garden:
1) Ladybugs (Ladybirds, for our British and Australian friends). We’re all familiar with these cute little beetles, and they’re the best known beneficial garden insects. They’re usually red or orange with black markings. Harmless to humans, their larvae and adult forms are fearsome predators of many garden pests. They love to feast on aphids, which are the bane of many a garden. If no aphids are around, they’ll settle for mites and other small insects. They also feed on the eggs of beetles, moths, and other insect pests.
The best way to attract lady bugs is to plant small, shallow flowers such as alyssum, cosmos and coreopsis to provide easy ways for them to find pollen and nectar, which they also enjoy. You can also buy a starting community of ladybugs and put them in a ladybug-friendly garden. You can also try attaching ladybug lures to your plants, which use pheromones to attract them.
2) Praying Mantises. These green little creatures with their prayer-like stance are the bane of many garden pests. Unfortunately they are voracious and will also eat beneficial insects, so they can be a mixed bag. You can buy praying mantis eggs for your garden, putting them wherever you have insect problems.
3) Parasitic wasps. Don’t be alarmed–we’re not talking about the big nasty wasps with painful stings. These wasps are tiny and feast primarily on garden pests. The most common ones are Ichneumon, Chalcid, Trichogramma and Braconid wasps. They eat white grubs, caterpillars, corn earworms, cutworms, moths, aphids and other creatures. They also lay their eggs inside of pests’ eggs, destroying them from within as new wasps break out.
Parasitic wasps need food and moisture. They feed on nectar and pollen, so the same flowers that work for ladybugs will work for these wasps. You can also buy Trichogramma wasp eggs and hatch them in your garden.
4) Green Lacewings. These are delicate, almost translucent flying creatures that vary from bright green to brown in color. They love feeding on aphids, spider mites, moth eggs, and other pests. They can be attracted using angelica, dill, cosmos, sunflowers, and cosmos. You can also buy their eggs (or for faster results, buy their larvae) and spread them around the garden.
Attracting and growing beneficial insects is one of the best organic gardening techniques to use as natural pest control in our gardens. Leave the insecticide on the shelf and turn these natural critters loose!