Beneficial insects for the garden
Squirm at the mention of anything that creeps or crawls? Insects can cause a lot of damage to your plants, and, without proper controls, weaken their health to the point of no return. But while some bugs need to be kept in check, there are others that are huge garden helpers. The beneficial insects here eat damaging insects, keeping them out of your garden. And remember to go easy on chemical insecticides. They may treat the insect pests you have, but they’ll wipe out the hard workers, too.
How to identify praying mantis
These menacing-looking insects have elongated, folding forelegs that catch and hold prey. Most are pale green when they hatch, turning shades of richer green or brown depending on their environment and the kinds of foods they eat.
Where you might find praying mantis
Around leaves, twigs, flowers or any garden area where other insects can be found
What pests do praying mantis eat?
- Black flies
- (But also other beneficial insects, including fellow mantids)
How to attract praying mantis
These insects thrive in almost every climate, but you can control exactly where they wind up in the garden by ordering egg cases from a specialty company, like www.planetnatural.com.
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Multicolored Asian lady beetle (aka ladybug)
How to identify asian lady beetle or ladybug
Also known as a ladybug, the multicolored Asian lady beetle is best identified from other species by the distinctive “M” marking on the back of its head. Color varies, from green to orange, as well as the number of spots on its back.
Where you might see lady beetles
Leaves, stems or anywhere there’s prey.
What pests do lady beetles eat?
Soft-bodied insect pests that attack flowers and vegetables, such as:
How to attract lady beetles
Plant tansy (Tanacetum vulgare), angelica (Angelica archangelica) and scented geraniums (Pelargonium spp.).
Goldenrod soldier beetle
How to identify goldenrod soldier beetles
The adult goldenrod soldier beetle is ½ to ⅔ in. long and orange or yellow with one black triangular and one black rectangular marking on its back. Often seen feeding on yellow flowers in late summer, the female crawls down and lays eggs under debris on the ground. Hatching larvae feed on insect pests on the soil’s surface.
Where you might see goldenrod soldier beetles
Feeding on the pollen of many yellow late-season blooms.
What pests do goldenrod soldier beetles eat?
- Other soft-bodied insects
How to attract goldenrod soldier beetles
Both adults and larvae are abundant in many areas; grow goldenrod (Solidago spp.) as a source of nectar and pollen.
How to identify braconid wasps
Usually black, orange or yellow, there are lots of species of braconid wasps, but they all have a similar life cycle. First, the adult female wasp lays her eggs in a caterpillar. The one above is a gypsy moth caterpillar. Then the caterpillar body provides nutrients to the cocoons as they grow. Have you ever seen a caterpillar with a lot of white bumps on it? Those are braconid wasp cocoons. A little gross, but a little cool too, right?
Where you might see braconid wasps
You’ll rarely see the young because they grow inside their hosts, but adults are present wherever insect pests are.
What pests do braconid wasps eat?
- Tomato and tobacco hornworms
- Wood-boring beetles
- Gypsy moth caterpillars
How to attract braconid wasps
Plant cosmos (Cosmos spp. and hybrids), fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), parsley (Petroselinum crispum), crocus (Crocus spp. and hybrids) or sweet alyssum (Lobularia maritima).
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How to identify green lacewings
The ¾-in.-long female adult lays pale-green to gray eggs at the ends of the hair-thin stalks, like the ones in the photo above. Once they hatch, tiny 1⁄3-in. yellow to pink-brown larvae (known as “aphid lions” for their voracious appetites) inject a paralyzing toxin into their victims before sucking out bodily fluids.
Where you might see green lacewings
Adults feed on nectar or pollen or where there are insect pests in range.
What pests do green lacewings eat?
Larvae eat the eggs and immature stages of:
- Spider mites
How to attract green lacewings
Plant angelica (Angelica archangelica), cilantro (Coriandrum sativum) or dill (Anethum graveolens) to feed adult lacewings.