How to encourage beneficial insects in your garden
We all talk about planting for pollinators and bee friendly plants. There is also regular mention of beneficial insects. What’s the difference? Some insects are the gardener’s enemy and thwart his or her attempts by causing damage to ornamentals and food crops.
Other insects are attractive, seem harmless and we like to see them visiting our gardens. Other insects don’t seem to do any harm, but they are not particularly attractive and endearing so we avoid them or step on them if they get in the way.
So how do you encourage the good guys and keep the pests away, and how do you know which is which?
What are beneficial insects?
Beneficial insects fall into two main categories. Those that affect pollination where that is required in the fertilisation of flowers to produce seeds; this may be for food crops.
The other category are those that prey on other insects that can be pests to the gardener or grower. In other words they carry out natural pest control. This latter activity is what the whole principle of biological control is based upon.
You introduce one bug which eats another bug. By encouraging beneficial insects in your garden you can achieve this naturally by encouraging a balanced environment where there are predators and prey for them to feed upon.
How do you encourage beneficial insects?These are the simple steps the gardener can take to encourage beneficial bugs:
1. Avoid all chemical insecticides, especially those broad-spectrum pest killers that kill any insect pest.
These knock out the beneficial bugs as well as those they prey upon which are probably the pests you want to ill. If you keep using them eventually a bug develops a resistance and re-establishes itself; more often than not this is the pest rather than the predator.
2. If you do use a pesticide at all use a natural organic one that is non-residual in the environment. Use only in early morning or late evening. Use it selectively as a contact pesticide sprayed directly on to the pest you are trying to kill.
3. Plant a wide variety of nectar and pollen sources in your garden that provide food throughout the year for bees, pollinators and other beneficial bugs. Single flowers are best and these are plenty to choose from.
Single flowers expose the pollen and make access to nectar easier for the insects. Plant in larger groups or drifts of perennials, bulbs and annuals if you can, this makes the flowers easier for the insects to find.
Your garden does not need to be a wilderness, you just need to put a little thought and plant to fill the gaps in food supply.
4. Include a variety of trees, shrubs and climbers in your garden. The more habitats you provide the greater the variety of insects that are likely to take up residence. Don’t be put off by that thought. This doesn’t mean more pests, it means more diversity so you have a greater chance of encouraging the good guys to be residents rather than just visitors.
5. Try to include a few native plants in your garden. These are more likely to be the food plants and breeding ground for native beneficial insects. Obviously species of host plant and insect vary according to where you are, so do a little research.
Often native woody plants can be incorporated into hedgerows or as background plants. Why not allow the clover and other small leaved flowering plants to invade your lawn. This space makes a great insect feeding ground.
6. Don’t be too tidy and avoid bare ground. Bare soil leaves ground dwelling bugs exposed and they are less likely to move around looking for food. Some beetles and other ground dwellers are good predators and will help you in the garden.
7. Provide an insect stack for beneficial insects to overwinter in. This is easily constructed from canes, twigs, cones, bricks and timber.
Old pallets make a great base and this can be an attractive feature. If you haven’t got space for a major feature go for one or more smaller insect houses; these are widely available in store and on line.
8. Provide water sources for insects. Insects need water as much as they need food. They will drink from shallow puddles; you could provide saucers filled with stones and clean water.
Alternatively they will drink from water held by leaves. If you are watering in an area of the garden regularly or benefit from regular rainfall plant subjects which trap some water on their foliage.
Insect species vary greatly according to where you garden. There is lots of great information out there about the predators to encourage in different parts of the world. So do a little research on what to look out for in your region.