Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Lower South
April, 2008
Regional Report

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Caterpillars are among the many fascinating insects that inhabit our gardens.

Bug Gardening

We plant gardens for a lot of reasons. Usually it's because we want to grow vegetables and flowers. Sometimes it's because we want to attract hummingbirds or butterflies. But what about other insects? Have you ever thought of gardening to attract bugs?

Okay, you probably think I've lost it. But just give me a moment and read on. Our landscapes and gardens are usually multipurpose settings where we plant and care for a variety of different species in order to beautify our landscapes and provide an edible bounty of healthy cuisine. Most gardeners will happily include a few plants to attract beautiful birds or those "flying flowers" called butterflies.

The more I learn about insects, the more fascinating I find them to be. And beneficial insects are especially intriguing to me. Study a spider's web laden with the morning dew, or watch a zipper spider move quickly to wrap up a grasshopper that has landed in its trap. Watch ladybug larvae and adults feed on aphids. Observe an assassin bug or preying mantis when it grabs a passing insect.

Close Up Viewing
Even the pests themselves can be interesting. Poke some aphids with a bade of grass and watch them (a magnifier helps) secrete drops of fluid from their tailpipes, or watch a group of young move in unison on a tree leaf. Examine the way a caterpillar chomps away at the edge of a leaf.

Nature is downright amazing, and a garden without insects is about as natural as a concrete parking lot. Now don't get me wrong. My fascination at that caterpillar eating my vegetables only lasts for so many "chomps" before I'm ready to put a halt to things. Yet I would offer the thought that if you are not spending some time "bug watching," you are missing part of the wonder and enjoyment of having a garden.

I find fascination in unearthed creatures, too, such as wireworms and grubs. Our family has a miniature fox terrorist (that's not a misspelling but rather this curmudgeon's opinion of the creature) who has one redeeming feature: her love of grubs. When I go out too turn the compost or move a log or rock or turn the soil in a spot for a new garden, she goes with me. Like a dedicated truffle hunter, she sniffs and digs in search of those tasty curved morsels that make her day. Despite her obstinate disregard for my opinion about most everything else, she never fails to come running when I call her to the garden!

Kids Love Bugs
Kids also get into the bug gardening theme big time. There is seldom a day that goes by without us gathering a few jars of caterpillars, beetles, and perhaps a slow-moving tail-less lizard around the house or back porch. The spring hatch of tree foliage-feeding caterpillars has begun and things are getting pretty exciting outside.

This spring, take some time to pause and search the garden for its multilegged inhabitants. Keep in mind that many of them are busy turning your garden pests into lunch. These beneficial insects can be encouraged to stay and reproduce in your landscape. You want some pest insects because they lure the beneficials. Also, mix in some plants that may or may not have culinary or aesthetic value but that attract beneficial insects. Let a few things go to bloom rather than pulling them out. Right now our arugula and cilantro have bolted and are keeping the beneficials happy. There are plenty of books and Web sites to guide you on some of the best things to plant to attract these insect allies.

Now, go grab a hand lens and watch the show out in your Bug Garden!

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