Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Lower South
August, 2009
Regional Report

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Fall aster provides a beautiful late summer to fall display while attracting beneficial insects such as this tiny syrphid fly adult whose larvae eat aphids.

Creating a "Good Bug" Garden

I'll bet you've read more than one article on creating a butterfly garden or perhaps a hummingbird garden. But have you ever read one about a garden to attract bugs? Some readers are thinking, "Hey I do that every year!" I'm not talking about pests but rather the insects that are beneficial to our gardening interests.

I've written previously on the fact that there are many insects and related arthropods out there in nature that do the majority of the work when it comes to managing pests in our gardens and landscapes. When they are present in adequate numbers many would-be pest outbreaks will not happen.

By creating a garden where beneficial will thrive you can help minimize pest problems in the future. Here are some tips to keep in mind:

Some beneficial adults eat pests but many species feed primarily on pollen and nectar, while their young feed on the pests. Flowers with small blooms are often a good choice for attracting these types of beneficial adults.

Include plants with small umbrella-like bloom clusters such as yarrow, dill, anise, fennel and coriander (cilantro). Small composite flower (daisy-like) work well too including coreopsis, black-eyed susan, coneflower, feverfew, chamomile, fall aster, and copper canyon daisy. A number of herbs produce flowers that are attractive to several beneficial species such as mint, thyme, chives, oregano, bee balm, basil, rosemary, and rue.

Beneficial insect larvae and some adults eat pests. If there are no pests you will have no beneficial. I know it goes against our gardening nature but a few pests are a GOOD THING! Think of it this way. Pests come to our garden because there is food -- our plants. Beneficials come to our garden because there is food -- other insects.

That momma lady beetle will lay eggs on a plant where there are a few aphids so her babies will have something to eat. Pest-free gardening is not realistic and comes at a significant environmental price if we try to spray our way to it. Get in touch with your inner aphid and learn to appreciate the fact that a few pests along with some beneficial there feeding on them is the best way to prevent a major outbreak.

I like to plant Mexican milkweed (Asclepias curassavica). Not only does it attract monarch butterflies but it also is a host to yellow aphids, which are not pests of my tomatoes, roses, or other landscape plants. It is not unusual to see lady beetles, syrphid flies, lacewings, and parasitoid wasps working over the aphids on this plant, raising a new generation of good guys to patrol the rest of my garden!

Several types of beneficials need a source of water. Birdbaths, drip irrigation, or even an occasional sprinkler will provide them a drink. Larger bodies of water such as a small garden pond will attract dragonflies which capture mosquitoes and other small flying insects as they fly about.

Now this may seem obvious but when we spray for pests an unintended target is often our beneficial insects. Even organic or natural sprays can have unintended consequences. Soap, for example, can damage small, soft-bodied beneficial larvae.

Avoid spraying if you see beneficial insects working on a pest population. When no beneficial are present choose a product whenever possible that is targeted to the pest rather than broad spectrum product that kills a wide variety of insect species. Direct the spray to the pest outbreak rather than apply it all over the garden.

If you build it, they will come! Consider some of these tips when planning your fall garden or adding plants to the landscape this year.

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