Bugs are insects that have piercing and sucking mouthparts. Most bugs are detrimental to your garden as they pierce and suck the life out of the leaves, stems, fruit and roots of your garden plants. Luckily, there are bugs that protect and pollinate your garden. By introducing and encouraging these good bugs, also known as beneficials, gardeners can greatly reduce or eliminate the need for pesticides. Most dedicated gardeners are all too familiar with the spiraling decrease in the effectiveness of pesticides, not to mention their adverse effects on human, pet, and wildlife health.
Ants are everywhere and, although they do protect aphids, they also aerate the soil and they eat fruit fly maggots and caterpillar larvae. Depending upon your crop, you may or may not want ants.
Assassin bugs kill and eat aphids and other small bugs when they are in their nymph and adult stages and then they graduate to eat large caterpillars for an effective, natural garden defense. They require shelter plantings, so be sure to include some perennials in your garden.
Bees are the pollinating workhorses of your garden. The recent world-wide struggle of honey bee populations makes raising a small hive of your own all the more desirable. You can also encourage visits from wild, solitary bees by planting flowers in and around your garden.
Butterflies are a mixed bag bug. In their larval form, they will devour your garden. As adults, they help pollinate your crop.
Centipedes, though looking a bit prehistorically creepy to some, will eat slugs and caterpillars, as well as help break down your compost. Similarly, millipedes will eat decaying plant material and aerate the soil.
Earthworms are the best thing you can have in your garden. As an indicator species, the presence of earthworms lets you know that your soil is healthy. Healthy soil means healthier plants. Earthworms aerate the soil and fertilize it with their castings.
Fly killers and fly parasites are gnat-sized predators of all manure breeding flies. They attack the maggot and pupa stages and nothing else. They are extremely effective and it is a wonder that more farms and barns don’t use them.
Ground beetles will live any place they can find shelter, so provide stone walkways and dense cover crops. Ground beetles will attack potato beetle eggs and larvae, snails, slugs and cutworms.
Hoverflies are natural predators and they will devour mealy bugs, mites and scale insects. Their larvae eat caterpillars, slugs, aphids and coddling moth larvae. Attract Hoverflies by planting pollen and nectar plants from the Umbelliferae or Apiceae family. These are plants that have an “umbrella” growth form and include cumin, parsley, carrot, coriander, dill, caraway, fennel, parsnip, celery and Queen Anne’s Lace. Hoverflies prefer tall plants such as sunflowers.
Lacewings, which can be green or brown, are brutal in their attack on aphids. A single female lacewing can eat 13 million aphids, mealy-bugs, spider mites, leafhopper nymphs, caterpillar eggs, scales, thrips and white-flies in a single lifetime. They are attracted to sunflowers, dills, cosmos, sweet alyssum, and goldenrod.
Ladybugs, also known as Ladybeetles, are another goldmine for the organic gardener as both adults and larvae can wreck havoc on aphid, thrift, scales and mite colonies. They also eat many leaf-eating larvae. You can attract ladybugs by planting nectar and pollen plants, such as goldenrod, yarrow, cosmos and dill. Nematodes live in the soil and will devour the larval stage of many destructive insects. Often neglected as beneficial, nematodes do not attack good bugs and should be an integral part of your garden protection plan.
Parasitic wasps do not sting people but they should be a first line of defense in any garden. The Braconid Wasp injects her eggs into cutworms as food for the larvae. Trichogramma wasps attack the eggs of over 200 species of moths and caterpillars that feed on fruit, vegetable and flower crops. Encarsia are minute only in size as every stage except the adult will work to destroy whiteflies. The Aphidius wasp specifically seeks out aphids. Most parasitic wasps are attracted to pollen and nectar plants in the Umbelliferae family and mint.
Praying Mantises are commonly known as one of the most beneficial garden bugs but this is not entirely accurate. It is true that they will eat just about any other type of insect. The problem lies in the fact that they will eat good bugs as rapidly as they will eat bad bugs. At the same tie, it is really amazing to watch a purchased or found egg casing start hatching out miniature praying mantises!
Robber fly adults will attack flying insects and the larval form will feed on grubs in the soil. You will encourage Robber flies in your garden with nectar producing plants. Spiders and wasps are predators and should be encouraged in the garden. Tachnid fly larvae will attack cutworms, Japanese beetles, squash bugs and many destructive caterpillars. They are attracted to the Umbelliferae family and mint.
Some less well known beneficial bugs include the predatory soil mite, Hypoaspis, which feeds on fungus gnats and thrip pupae, Aphidoletes, a small midge (fly), which feeds on aphids, and Orius, the pirate bug, who devours thrips, aphids, mites and caterpillars and the Crypts family. These mealy bug destroyers will also feed on aphids and soft scale insects. Although forbidden in specific areas of California, due to endangered species, the Decollate Snail gorges on brown garden snails and small slugs. Cucumeris bugs will help control thrip infestations.
Attracting and keeping good bugs in your garden will significantly reduce crop damage and the need for potentially dangerous pesticides. Most farm and garden shops sell these good bugs and you can always order them online.