Friday, April 10, 2009

Our garden - Year 2 : Attracting beneficial insects to help with pest control

Well, after all the rain we’ve gotten in the last few weeks, the snow here has been melting at a ridiculous rate. With the sun finally out today, I decided to take a nice walk to venture into our community garden and see how much snow was still there and if some of our early bulbs had started to show their little green heads.

As I was walking, I was thinking of flowers, fruits and veggies I would soon plant and it reminded me of a wonderful conference my husband and I attended last week-end on “How to attract beneficial insects into your gardens”. Now, the conference was in French and the book that the facts are taken from is titled Attirer la faune au jardin : insectes bénéfiques, papillons, grenouilles et oiseaux dans votre cour (Attract fauna in the garden : beneficial insects, butterflies, frogs and birds in your yard) by Albert Mondor and Daniel Gingras, but I decided to translate and share with you a few of the facts we picked up.


At the very root of the matter, all bugs, in the bug kingdom, are beneficial. Every insect is food for another living thing; every one plays its part. In the human world, it is another story all together but...

Did you know that…
Only 0.05% of insects on the planet are non-beneficial/harmful to humans?

We are talking insects that carry diseases like West Nile and malaria carried by mosquitoes, lime disease by ticks, lice, etc. But those are a miniscule fraction of insects on earth and the rest of them can be quite effective with ecological population control, at helping with invading plant life and they actively participate in the decomposition and recycling of organic matter into yummy composted soil.

Beneficial insects we commonly come across are the following :

Spiders :
40 – 70 % of insects caught in spider webs are non-beneficial (mosquitoes being one of them).

Ladybugs :
Both adults and their larvae are powerful pest controlling agents. 60% of their combined diets consist of aphids. Adult ladybugs can eat up to 1000 aphids a day.

Green lacewings :
One of the most beneficial, although hard to attract, insects. Their larvae will eat everything from aphids to scales, including spider mite eggs, thrips and white flies. They are hard to attract because they are very delicate and fall victim to predators like birds, but you can build bug shelters with openings only big enough for them and hang them in your garden. I found a fun little how-to sheet on a UK gardening site that you can check out.

Ants :
I know *shivers*, but they are wonderful for plants. They are true protectors because a small colony can eat thousands upon thousands of insect eggs a day and they will never ever touch the plants. Plus, like earth worms, they aerate the soil very well.

So how do you attract all these wonderful little helpers?

  • Have a good variety of different plants to offer something to everyone.
  • Have different sized plants to attract all kinds of little helpers.
  • Flower and plant families that are very popular to use are Umbelliferae (including angelica, anise, celery, dill, cumin, carrots, etc.), Labiatae (including aromatic herbs like basil, mint, rosemary, sage, savory, marjoram, oregano, thyme and lavender, etc.) and Asteraceae (or Compositae) which is the daisy and sunflower family.

I hope this was a useful article for all of you.

A new way to look at insects may give you a whole new freedom in your garden this year! Hopefully you’ll take a few steps towards attracting the good kind and in the process, reduce (or *fingers crossed*) eliminate the need for insecticides!

What steps will you take this summer to make your gardens and flower beds a green place?


Anonymous said...

We did a good job last year of attracting lots of bees with several sunflower varieties. We're going for more of the best attracting plants this season.

Yanic said...

Hey Jenn -
Sunflowers are definitely on our short list of flowers to grow. We are hopeing that with all our aromatic herbs and such, we will get quite a few visitors.