Want a Pesticide Free Organic Gardens? Use Bugs!
Did you know? There are 1.5 million known insect species on our planet…more than 97% of these little ‘buggers’ are absolutely beneficial to our gardens!
“Bug” is the blanket term for any type of arthropod; whether its insects, non-insect hexapods, arachnids, isopods, myriapods and worms (and even gastropods like slugs and snails), your garden is an all-you-can-eat tasty buffet for most of the ‘problematic’ and predominately herbivore bugs out there. These plant eaters sit pretty low on the food chain – not only do they attract important ‘beneficial’ insects (or if you want to be more inclusive: arthropods) to the garden as pollinators but are also an organic pest control method for you and your garden without using a single drop of pesticide.
The most obvious benefit to using organic pest control? It’s a cost effective non-toxic approach that is safe for our family, pollinators and wildlife that visit our gardens. Chemical pesticides are killing beneficial pollinators such as bees and butterflies at an alarming rate and continues to drastically reduce their numbers. We can all work together to help stop this!
Pesticides are known to cause health problems including causing cancer and reproductive health issues. Pesticide residues on food are shown to be the most direct route of childhood exposure, and can potentially lead to children being more likely to develop neurological disorders such as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) according to the American Society of Pediatrics.
Pesticide use destroys a balanced ecosystem. Chemicals kill off the natural predators and allows pest populations to flourish, breed and eventually take over and damage your garden plants. Instead of spending lots of money on harmful chemicals, why not discover and introduce the beneficial bugs that are key to establishing a natural flourishing ecosystem in your garden that provides long-term health and ease of maintenance without the use of pesticides.
Gardeners Please Take Note: early spring brings the overwhelming feeling of garden tidying…things are looking shabby - long grass, twigs and unkempt areas are bothering you. If you can hold off on moving logs, clearing up and weeding, at least until the warmer weather hits, it would really help pollinators get by until the warmer weather takes hold.
Bugs seek shelter over the winter in long grass, piles of leaves and logs, and for many pollinators such as bees, those dandelions are the first and best meal they can discover - please let your dandelions hang around at least until other flowers start coming out.
Gardeners will attract beneficial bugs by planting specific types of plants and herbs in your garden. For instance, if you had multitudes of aphids last year and don’t want a repeat of that, ladybugs will be your best defence! Ladybugs love to devour aphids (as do hoverfly larvae) and planting what ladybugs are attracted to such as: dill, yarrow, fern leaf yellow and basked of gold will attract.
A list of predator-attracting herbs and plants include but are not limited to: lemon balm, parsley, caraway, fennel, spearmint, dill, clover, coriander, carrots, buckwheat, sunflowers, dandelion, marigolds, alfalfa, cosmos, evening primrose, citronella, yarrow and amaranthus.
Using predators in our gardens not only saves money but it saves our pests which in turn saves our pollinators. Not using chemical pest control allows you to grow, experiment, harvest and consume a constant variety of fresh herbs and edible flowers. Best of all, you know what you grow.
10 of the most effective beneficial bugs we can all encourage to visit our gardens:
- Food Source: Aphids, whitefly, mites, fleas, and potato beetles
- Plants to attract: Dandelion, tansy, dill, fennel, butterfly weed, fern-leaf yarrow (achillea), bugleweed, cosmos, sunflowers, caraway, angelica, statice (sea lavender), feverfew, coreopsis, chives, coneflowers, Allyssum (Basket of Gold), and common Yarrow (achillea millefolium) and mint.
- Ladybugs are voracious eaters and eat fruit flies and mites; they will consume more than 5,000 plant eating insects like aphids during their lifetime (2-3 years if conditions are suitable).
- Food Source: A wide range of insects including pests like aphids, flies, butterflies, caterpillars, moths, bees, beetles, crickets and other predators like spiders. Also known to eat small amphibians, shrews, mice, snakes, and soft-shelled turtles.
- Plants to attract: Tall grasses and shrubs, cosmos, marigolds, dill, raspberry canes, fennel and angelica. Grow shady, protective plants that are low to the ground. Note: beneficial insects need places to hide from such predators!
- Praying Mantises have great vision and can rotate their heads 180 degrees making them excellent natural predators.
- Food Source: Excellent predators of aphids, cabbage maggots, slugs, caterpillars, ants, potato beetles and cutworms. Larvae feed on insects in the soil.
- Plants to attract: Incorporate a few perennial vegetable plants like asparagus and rhubarb; add flowers such as evening primrose, amaranthus and clover. Composting sites also make fine habitat for these important beneficial bugs.
- Ground beetles are typically nocturnal.
- Food Source: Larvae are bright orange and consume soft-bodied insect pests. Aphid midges consume about sixty different species of aphids, including those that attack vegetable crops, ornamentals, and fruit trees. Active at night; hide under the leaves during the day.
- Plants to attract: Pollen producing plants that provide shade and a moist environment such as dill, that provide plenty of pollen and nectar, and a source of water and sheltered from strong winds.
- Aphid midges are voracious feeders and are reported to be more effective at managing an aphid infestation than ladybugs and lacewings.
- Food Source: Flower nectar and pollenare key energy sources for braconid wasps. Flowers with small florets, including most herbs and carrot family cousins, are ideal for these small, fast-moving wasps. Also will eat tomato hornworm, caterpillars, and aphids.
- Plants to attract: Grow an abundance of flowers and herbs that produce nectar from numerous small florets such as fern-leaf yarrow and common yarrow, dill, lemon balm, parsley, sweet alyssum, chamomile, feverfew, catnip and buckwheat. Note: allow some of your dill, fennel and other members of the carrot family plants to flower, and these too will attract braconid wasps.
- Braconid wasps kills caterpillars and hornworms by laying eggs inside the caterpillar.
- Food Source: Eats an impressive variety of herbivores like leafhoppers, plant hoppers, and aphids, mites and also sawfly larvae, caterpillars (including cabbage worms, corn earworms, army worms, corn borers, and the green clover worm), insect eggs, and the eggs and larvae of the potato beetles.
- Plants to attract: herbs such as dill, fennel, lavender, coriander (cilantro), or chamomile should be planted to attract damsel bugs for shelter and food. Also include flowering tobacco (nicotiana), caraway, fennel, alfalfa, and spearmint.
- Damsel bug populations can thrive if you provide them various places to hide.
- Food Source: Adult lacewings are not predatory – they eat honeydew, nectar and pollen. It is the tiny pale green eggs on hair-like stalks that attach to the underside of leaves or on bark of trees that produces the Lacewing larvae. The larvae feed on soft-bodied insects like aphids, whitefly, mealybugs and will also feed on caterpillars, leafhoppers and some beetles. The biggest benefit of lacewing larvae is how aggressive they are. They will eat anything they can catch, and they are always hungry.
- Plants to attract: plants in the parsley family such as angelica, anise, caraway, coriander, dill, Queen Anne's, and lovage. Also incorporate angelica, golden marguerite, dandelion, erigonium, calamint, mountain mint, oregano, sweet alyssum, cosmos, verbena and wall flower- all very good food sources for green lacewings.
- The larvae are voracious feeders and do an excellent job of getting rid of soft-bodied pests.
- Food Source: Adult hoverflies feed on flower nectar and help pollinate some crops. It is the larvae that are important predators in the garden. These tiny, almost invisible slug-like larvae scour the undersides of plant leaves looking for aphids which are their primary food source. Also known to prey on scale insects and caterpillars.
- Plants to attract: primarily attracted to sweet smells - primary food sources are pollen and nectar and like all flies can be attracted to rotting fruit and garbage. They're sometimes called corn flies because there's often an infestation in corn fields where the larvae feast on aphids! Plant lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), lemon balm, fern leaf yarrow, common yarrow, dill, Alyssum Basket of Gold and Statice to attract hoverflies and bees.
- Larvae feed on pests; adult flies feed on pollen. Hover flies are a product of evolutionary mimicry. Adults mimic the appearance of a wasp or a bee to ward off potential predators. Unlike wasps and bees, hover flies have no stinger.
- Food Source: Adult mealybug destroyers are a species of lady bug. They have a dark brown to orange head, blackish to dark gray dome shaped top, is flat on the bottom and appears oblong when viewed from above. The hard body is 1/8 to 1/6 inch (3–4 mm) long with short, clubbed antennae.
- Mealybug destroyer larvae grow up to 1/2 inch (12 mm) long and closely resemble a mealybug however, the mealybug destroyer larvae are faster moving and at maturity, are more than twice size of an adult female mealybug. Eggs are oblong and yellow. Eggs occur singly or in groups in the waxy egg sacs of host insects. Each beetle larvae can consume more than 250 mealybug nymphs (immature) or over 1,000 mealybug eggs as it develops through 4 increasingly larger instars (periods between molting). Larvae feed for about 3 to 4 weeks before pupating.
- Plants to attract: Plant fennel, dill, angelica, sunflower, goldenrod
- Mealybug destroyers feed on mealybugs, especially citrus mealybugs that dine on many greenhouse crops such as coleus, begonia, amaryllis, cyclamen and dahlia. Mealybugs are also frequent pests to basil, grapes, stone pine, pomegranate, chamomile, apple, plum, pear, peach, ferns, orchids, and, well, quite honestly, pretty much everything growing inside or outside of your home. Mealybugs produce honeydew, which provides the perfect growth medium for sooty mold.
- Food Source: predatory mites feed on spider mites and other pest mites such as thrips and some other small insects. In the absence of prey, predatory mites eat pollen and nectar and can revert to sucking plant juices.
- Plants to attract: found in humid environments like greenhouses and poly tunnels where spider mites flourish; use oil of wintergreen to attract predatory mites – use a small plastic container with a couple of cotton balls dabbed with oil of wintergreen inside – attach to areas or plants with spider mite infestation.
- Predatory mites feed on pollen and not the plant itself, when other prey is unavailable.
10 Beneficial Bugs Can Help!
There you have it...10 beneficial bugs that provides an organic solution to pest control. It may be a great idea to approach your community - in particular your neighbors - about your plans to go green and not use pesticides. Sharing alternative ideas about the ‘how to’s of establishing a natural ecosystem may result in a higher success rate of adoption overall. This organic approach benefits all wildlife, pollinators, domestic animals and of course humans both in your garden and in our communities. It starts with one garden.
If you are thinking of purchasing beneficial insects first, it is important to ensure that the climate and vegetation you provide is a suitable environment for them from the get go – they need a low to medium population of pests as a source of food so they stick around, settle in and continue to do their job - or they will move on. Either way, if you choose to purchase your army or plant food to attract them, make sure to provide the most suitable environment for your beneficial bug arsenal to coexist with your garden, your wildlife and your neighbors.