Keeping an organic garden isn’t easy, but one of the simplest ways you can make it easier on yourself is by attracting beneficial insects to your garden. Give them the right environment, and those beneficial bugs will make your garden much healthier and easier to care for.
Why Should You Encourage Beneficial Insects?
In our modern world, bugs often get a bad rap. Many of us forget that even though there are plenty of insects that may scare the bejeezus out of us when we find them creeping around our homes, they are a vital part of our natural ecosystem, and without them our world wouldn’t work. They pollinate our foods, they prey on insects that might otherwise harm us, and they do myriad other jobs that we’re rarely aware of.
Attracting good bugs to your garden is one way that you can help maintain a healthy, natural order in your garden. Instead of relying on potentially harmful chemicals to get rid of garden pests like aphids and predatory beetles, attracting beneficial insects to your garden—like ladybugs, bees, lacewings, soldier beetles and more—can give you a healthy, balanced vegetable patch without risking the nasty side effects.
Plus, let’s be honest: Wouldn’t you rather attract ladybugs and watch them do the dirty work for you instead of spending your money on expensive pesticides that you then have to spray everywhere and worry about?
How to Attract Beneficial Bugs and Keep Them
Luckily, encouraging beneficial bugs to visit your garden isn’t very hard. In fact, if you follow three simple rules you should be able to attract and keep all of the good garden insects you could want.
If you want to keep an organic garden that works with Mother Nature’s smallest pest killers, be sure you:
- Resist the urge to use pesticides. When you’re on the warpath to wipe out the aphid army that’s killing your garden, it’s easy to forget that the beneficial bugs and insects that could be helping you will also die if you use chemical insecticides and pesticides. Not only will you kill the garden pests you want to get rid off (and probably many pollinators and beneficial insect predators that you want to keep around—just check out the findings from this report), you’ll up your own arms race by encouraging populations of pesticide-resistant insects to breed and grow. (Two alternatives to harsh chemical pesticides? Plants that repel insects, like chives and marigolds, and homemade insecticidal soaps.)
- Step back and let your pest populations grow. Yes, you read that right. If you step in and control your pest problem before the pest population reaches a level that attracts beneficial insects, you’ll never give your garden the chance to do what it should do best: thrive without your intervention. Before your garden can “call out” to beneficial bugs for help, the parasite or pest infestation has to be serious enough to warrant the alarm. (And I mean this literally—studies have shown that plants under attack by insect predators secrete chemical signatures that alert and attract pest-eating insects like ladybugs and parasitic wasps. But plants will only raise this alarm if the pest population reaches a certain critical mass. Intervene before then and your army of beneficial bugs will never be called to battle.)
- Encourage plant and vegetable diversity. Studies have shown that diverse, complex gardens (so those that have a variety of plant types and species) attract greater numbers and a more diverse population of good insects. By having a diverse offering of pollen, nectar, leaves and flowers, you’re more likely to attract a diverse population of beneficial predators. And, because your garden buffet will give them everything they need to survive, they’ll be more likely to stick around. Not sure what to grow? How about learning how to grow bee balm plants or planting edible landscaping that will both repel bad bugs and attract good ones at the same time?
If you try your best and still can’t seem to attract any of the insects you want (or you just can’t stomach waiting for a critical mass of potato beetles and Mexican bean beetles to appear), you can always try ordering beneficial insects from an insect supplier. Before you do this, however, be sure that your garden has the right types of insects and plant-life to support whatever insects you order, and that the insects you buy are appropriate for your climate, especially if you’re hoping to keep a self-sustaining population that will breed and survive for future growing seasons.
What to Grow for a Bug-friendly Garden
Whether this is your first time trying to use natural pest control methods with predatory insects or you’re a seasoned organic gardener just enjoying the read, here are a few easy-to-grow herbs, plants and vegetables that you should consider growing.
Together, this small assortment of plants attracts must-have beneficial insects like syrphid flies, tachinid flies, predatory wasps, ladybugs, spiders, soldier beetles, assassin bugs, damsel bugs, lacewings, and more. But don’t stop there—there are dozens of wonderful plants you can include in your garden to attract good insects.
- Dill. This annual isn’t only a delicious herb that encourages beneficial insects to stick around, it also hosts black swallowtail butterfly larvae. (It can, however, be aggressive in certain environments. If spread is a concern for you, consider planting in containers.)
- Coriander/Cilantro. This annual herb is pretty much a must-have for any herb or vegetable gardener hoping to attract good insects.
- Coreopsis (Tickseed). A wonderfully easy-to-grow perennial, Coreopsis has a nice, long flowering period, self-seeds readily, and encourages visits from just about every sort of good bug there is.
- Buckwheat. If you’re a fan of using cover crops to keep your soil fertile and weed-free, buckwheat is a great choice. Extremely fast growing, it attracts all the best bugs, including ladybugs, spiders, assassin bugs, damsel bugs, tachinid flies, syrphid flies, and more.
- Sunflowers. If you need yet another reason to grow fields of beautiful, regal sunflowers, now you have it. Sunflowers attract loads of beneficial insects and hundreds of species of pollinators, including my personal favorite: the bumblebee. There’s nothing like watching a rolly-polly bumblebee seemingly smuggle jugs of stolen pollen as he passes through your garden.
- Rudbeckia (Black-eyed Susan). Another of my favorites, Rudbeckia are insanely easy to care for and they attract loads of good insects. From butterflies and bees to tachinid flies and solider beetles, black-eyed Susan bring all the besties.
For more information about other natural ways to keep a healthy garden, check out the these articles about natural methods of pest control and what type of containers to use in a container garden. Good luck!