We’re all distressed by the alarming decline of the honey bee and Monarch butterfly due to GMO crops and pesticides. A big problem with pesticides, even organic ones, is that they make no distinction between harmful insects and beneficial ones – like the honey bee and Monarch butterfly. Besides there are many other negative impacts from using pesticides including pollution of the waterways and suppression of the soil food web.
So what do you do when bugs leave your garden plants looking like their leaves were made of delicate lace? The answer I’ve always used is farmscaping; using select plants to attract and keep beneficial insects in your garden. The three (3) Ps of beneficial insects are; pollinators, predators, parasites. The pollinators fertilize flowers which increase productivity of food crops. Predators consume pest insects as food. Parasites use pests as nurseries for their young. Today I am focusing on the predator insects that help rid your garden of those freeloading bugs eating those plants you’ve worked so hard to grow. It’s not too late to take the natural route (although may cost a little more by starting later in the season.)
Now you can get beneficial bugs into your garden in two (2) ways. You can purchase them from a supplier and release them, or you can attract them naturally using what is called farmscaping or planting plants in or around your garden that provide food and shelter for beneficial bugs. Either way farmscaping is needed, because once you release the store bought bugs you’ll want them to thrive in your garden and not have a snack and move on to greener pastures.
I have done this two ways. In some gardens I’ve planted a border of herbs and flowers and in some I’ve planted the beneficial plants in among the plants that need protecting. (If a plant is plagued by aphids I’ll plant something that attracts aphid eaters.) If your garden is large, I recommend combining both methods; a border with “booster” spots within the garden. I don’t want my little helpers to ever want to leave.
It’s a general rule of thumb to designate between 5% and 10% of your garden space to plants that bring in beneficials. Now you want to bring them in all year (or all season) so it is important to plant attractors that bloom year round, or bloom successively so that there is a consistent food source for your little helpers. Shelter is also something to consider. Since the bugs live in your region you want to look for plants from your region to attract them.
Below is an illustration (absolutely not to scale) of one garden plan that was pretty successful. The flower bed blocked the view of metal supports in the vegetable garden from the house. The top of the plan was to the south and the right to the west. This way the veg garden also got full sun. The herb garden was in the corner closest to the kitchen door. I could just pop out and pluck a few herbs and run back in to continue cooking.
There were other gardens in close proximity so the beneficial plants benefited them all.
I’ve never felt the need to purchase insects (raised by organic farmers so knew to do this from the start) so I can’t tell you the best way to introduce them into your garden. According to buglocical.com
“Releasing beneficial insects and mites is best done whenever pest populations are low to medium. Higher populations should always be reduced, in the least toxic manner possible, prior to using any beneficial insects. You need to introduce bio-controls at the first sign of pests. A fast response is essential to controlling their infestation rate and overall impact on your agricultural operation.”
Below are a few plants I use.
I always plant dill in my garden. It’s lacy foliage and flowers are so pretty, it smells good, it grows well and I can never eat enough to make a dent in the dill patch. Some summers I don’t eat dill at all. So why do I plant it every year? Ladybugs love dill. Lady bugs are probably the most well-known predator bug and certainly my favorite. They are so cute and have good appetites. The young larva eats more pests than the adults so you’ll want these little cuties to make a home in your garden. They also like dandelion which I also always seem to have in abundance. J
Dill also attracts hover-flies and predatory wasps. It keeps aphids, spider mites and squash bugs away from your vegetables (I planted my squash next to the dill patch but I suppose you could sprinkle dill leaves on your squash plant if another garden plan works better for you.)
Dill can attract tomato horn worms so be careful not to plant it near tomatoes. Actually planting it at a distance from your tomatoes can help draw them away from your tomato vines. Dill is best planted with cucumbers and onions.
I also always have chives in my garden. I love chives. They’re a pretty little plant with round purple flower heads. So handy to be able to snip a few leaves of chives for a baked potato or many other culinary uses.
Chives deter aphids, mites, carrot rust flies, and Japanese beetles, as well as rabbits. I have also heard that chives will help prevent scab when planted among apple trees.
Clump-forming ornamental grasses provide shelter in the summer and a great place to overwinter for ground beetles, ladybugs, and other beneficials. I use Monkey Grass. It’s a perennial, multiplies well, is hardy, and low growing so it makes an excellent border. My biggest problem with Monkey Grass is friends and family always wants to dig in my garden to get starts for themselves. Fortunately it multiplies to rapidly this is never really a problem.
This multi-tasker attracts pollinators like bees and butterflies as well as predators like hover-flies. You may have seen hover flies and not know it. You know those little bugs that look like skinny bees that hover and dart away? Those are hover flies. They are also known as syphid fly and flower fly. They don’t sting and feed on aphids and mealy bugs among other pests. Hover flies also like dill and parsley.
Lavender also helps deter a larger predator by protecting spinach and lettuce from rabbits
Lavender’s pest controlling properties aren’t limited to your garden bed. It also repels fleas, moths, silverfish, mosquitoes, and flies. Therefore, it is a good idea to keep lavender sachets in the wardrobe or you may grind it into powder and sprinkle the power on your pet’s bedding.
Pretty, low maintenance, perennials that attract butterflies like crazy. For several years I’ve had them planted them around the walk to my front door and everyone used to walk through clouds of butterflies coming and going from my house, which thrilled some and irritated others. Sadly there aren’t many monarchs left so I haven’t had butterfly clouds for several years.
Anyway, the showy sedums, I’ve also recently heard called “Live Forever” (that name bodes well don’t you think?) also attract hover flies and other aphid eaters that feed on the sedum pollen when the aphids aren’t available. These are the easiest plants to clean up in the fall too. The stems snap off at the ground leaving a nice neat mound ready for the next spring.
Below are some links to plant lists and resources.
For lists of annuals, perennials, trees, and shrubs as well as resources to help you attract beneficial insects check out Mother Earth News at: http://www.motherearthnews.com/organic-gardening/plants-to-attract-beneficial-insects-zl0z1005zvau.aspx#ixzz375DBpUje
For more specific planting information, including hardiness zones and bloom dates, you can search for each plant at Wildflowerinformation.org.
For a quick guide to the top 10 beneficial insects (including illustrations of each), see Enlist Beneficial Insects for Natural Pest Control.
What methods do you control pests in your garden? I’d love for you to share your experiences below.