What do you think about the bugs in your yard? Do you see them as either “good” bugs, ready to help pollinate your plants or as “bad” bugs, out to destroy your garden? Fact is, most of them are neither one. More than 90% of the bugs in the average landscape are just there….. pretty much minding their own business, being benign little bugs…not pollinating or damaging. Taken as a whole, lots of activity from a wide variety of insects is usually the sign of a healthy back yard ecosystem.
That doesn’t mean we can’t play favorites, though. These guys may not connect with you on Facebook or invite you to their kid’s 5th birthday party, but they should be considered among your garden’s BFFs. They are the pollinators or predatory insects that actually eat the bad guys. Recognizing the “beneficial” insects in all of their stages from egg to adult, and doing what we can to nurture them, is a practice every gardener should cultivate. And it’s easy to do.
And the winner of the beneficial insect popularity contest is….
It’s really no contest at all. The Ladybug, more correctly known as the “Lady Beetle,” is usually everyone’s favorite and they are out in droves this season. Over 80 species live in Colorado. Most are bright red-colored, but some species are dark brown, mostly black or even striped. They are known to dine on aphids, mites, mealybugs, scale insects and the eggs of several other pests. Adult lady beetles may also feed on pollen or “honeydew” — aphid excrement. YUM.
It’s the larva, however, that are the real eating machines… kind of like a teenager who just can’t get enough pizza. Lady beetle larvae look like small black-and-red or black-and-orange alligators. Enlarge one on a movie screen and you have the stuff of science fiction monsters. But they will mow through 50 plus aphids per day!
To attract adult ladybugs, considers planting dill, coriander and alyssum. Other favorites include bugleweed, coreopsis, cilantro, thyme, oregano and yarrow. With luck, they will lay some eggs so another generation can take over once the pests return, which they always will. And for the record, aphids are born pregnant (GROSS), and will routinely recover faster than the beneficial insects that feed on them. If you want the Lady Beetles (or any other beneficials) to thrive, you need to eliminate the use of pesticides on the plants where they’re hunting for food. Insecticides are designed to kill insects. This spotted lady will not get a free pass.
A delicate beauty, indeed
We love Green Lacewings. With their bulging compound eyes and their see-through wings, they look intense, yet delicate and fragile. Their larval stage is anything but fragile. Lacewing larva are commonly known as Aphid Lions. Get the picture? Aphid Lions are described as “voracious.” They’ll eat just about any other insect that’s not too big for them to handle…. including but not limited aphids, corn worms, young caterpillars and Colorado potato beetle larvae, as well as eggs of caterpillars, mealybugs, lace bugs, spider mites and whiteflies and at times, other lacewings. So goes Mother Nature.
An Aphid Lion has piercing mouthparts that inject a toxin and dissolve its prey. While they don’t have anything like the beauty of their parents, we should welcome them, indeed. And keep an eye out for Lacewing eggs. They’re usually laid on the underside of leaves where juicy aphids are just a short walk away, once the eggs hatch. With their thread-like stalks attaching them to the leaf, they are a wonder to see.
Adult lacewings consume pollen and nectar, so you can attract them to your garden to eat and reproduce — i.e., create more pest-chomping larvae — by planting coreopsis, cosmos, yarrow, goldenrod, Queen Anne’s lace and marguerite daisies.
It’s a bee. It’s a wasp. No, it’s a flower fly!
Call them flower flies, hover flies or syrphid flies, these little insects are a gardener’s friend! You’ll see them quietly hovering, like hummingbirds, sipping nectar from flowers. While the adults look like small wasps with a black-and-yellow or white-striped abdomen, they do not sting. And it’s their plain-Jane larva, in the form of maggots, that will gladly chow down on aphids and thrips. Because the larva don’t look appealing or helpful, an anxious gardener could assume they’re pests. They are not!
Flower fly larva should be as welcome as Lady Beetles or Lacewings. Keep your eyes open for them. They could use some well-informed gardeners and little better P.R. They are pollenators, active throughout the growing season, so be sure to plant an assortment of flowers and herbs with different bloom times to provide a continuous food supply. Attractive choices include daisies, marigolds, coreopsis, spiky veronica, basket-of-gold, lavender, asters, bugleweed, statice, sedum, dill, fennel and feverfew.
Putting out the Welcome Mat
Adding plants to your garden that are especially attractive to any and all beneficial insects may encourage them to visit. BEE sure your yard includes:
Trees and Shrubs:
• Mexican Cliffroses
• Apache Plumes
• Apple Trees
• Cherry Trees
Annual and Perennial Flowers:
• Bee Balm
• Russian Sage
When plants are being attacked by pests, they actually release chemical signals that attract beneficial insects — in essence, ringing a dinner bell for the predator insects. It may take time for them to show up, so be patient. Numbers are high this summer for both beneficial insects and pests. If you let natural predators take care of the pesky bad guys instead of reaching for a chemical solution, you’ll have more birds, butterflies and bees visiting your yard, and you’ll get to enjoy watching them. Guaranteed.
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In combination, our efforts have earned us 25 years worth of awards on both a regional and national level, including the Grand Award for Color Design from the Associated Landscape Contractors of Colorado. Contact us today at 720.586.4843 for a free consultation and estimate for your next landscape design project.