Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Western Mountains and High Plains
August, 2007
Regional Report

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Ladybugs and praying mantis eggs are available at many garden centers.

Nature's Little Helpers

Not everything that creeps, crawls, and flutters into your landscape and garden is an unwelcome pest or enemy. Many creatures that visit help to keep insect populations in check. Summer is a great time to observe and learn more about the life in your garden and make friends with nature's little helpers. Get to know the friendly creatures before you even think about reaching for the bug killer. You will soon learn to appreciate their contributions to a healthy yard and garden.

The Parasitic Wasps
There are thousands of species of parasitic wasps from more than a dozen insect families. These tiny wasps are highly specific in their habits, attacking only one kind of insect. Some prey upon aphids, others develop only on scale insects, while other wasps parasitize caterpillars like the tomato hornworm.

Like the creature from the movie Alien, female parasitic wasps insert eggs into the body of these insect hosts. The eggs hatch within the host and the developing wasp grubs usually kill the host insect within a week to 10 days. There can be several generations of wasps produced during the growing season.

Lady Beetles
Better known as ladybugs, lady beetles are among the most widely recognized beneficial insects. Visit your local garden outlets and you will find convergent lady beetles for sale in packets of 500 or more. These are the classic reddish orange beetles with bright black spots. Lady beetles are voracious eaters and will consume large quantities of soft-bodied insects, including aphids, small caterpillars, and scales.

Some gardeners bring insect samples to the Plant Clinic that they have found and killed on the foliage and stems of evergreens. Upon closer examination, we see that the creatures they've killed are the larval stages of the lady beetles. The immature or larval stage of the lady beetle is very different from the adult. The black and orange larvae are 1/4 to 1/2 inch long and resemble miniature orange and black Gila monsters. You'll want these tiny larvae around because they will eat hundreds of aphids per day.

If you purchase lady beetles, open the container and sprinkle a little water over them. Then close the container and keep them in the refrigerator until you're ready to release them. The best time to turn them loose is late evening, preferably after a rainstorm. Find a spot where you see some aphids, or release them near flowers so they can eat the pollen and nectar temporarily.

Enticing Beneficial Insects to Your Garden
1. Lay off the use of pesticides at the first sign of a bug in your garden. Many pesticides kill beneficial insects as well as the pests.
2. Provide a source of water in the garden. This can be a small birdbath, shallow pond, or small dish filled with gravel and water.
3. Have a spot for shelter from wind and rain. A row of tall perennials such as sunflowers, shrubbery, or ornamental grasses will provide a safety zone for insect predators to hide and later come out to hunt down the "bad guys."
4. Grow plants that are a source of nectar and pollen for our beneficial insects. These will attract them to the garden and give them something to eat while they wait for their prey. Some common herbs, such as dill, fennel, lemon balm, and spearmint, attract beneficial insects. Many wildflowers, daisies, cosmos, clovers, and other legumes are also favored by beneficial insects.

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