Throughout the country, especially in regions that typically experience four seasons, it’s gardening time. Maybe you still have a few seeds to get into the ground (::raises hand::) before it gets too hot. Or, perhaps, you have planted everything and are weeding and watering now. If you visit the archives at The Hot Mess Press, you’ll find no shortage of gardening posts. Whether you’re an experienced food grower or just starting out, we have lots of articles on the benefits of growing your own food. The more food your grow yourself (without chemical sprays) the healthier you’ll be. Insects and bugs are always a hot topic of discussion with all-things-gardening.
People typically focus on “the bad pests.” If an infestation gets out of hand, it can destroy a whole crop, overnight. Personally speaking, I’d rather lose a crop than use Round Up or other pesticides that are known to have disastrous effects on human health. A more natural way to combat bad pests is to encourage and welcome good insects and bugs in your garden. You just have to know who the good guys are versus the bad ones. This post will tell you about five insects and bugs that you should treat like guests of honor in your garden.
Ladybugs are among the best insects and bugs you can have
Before we talk about why ladybugs should be welcomed in your garden, we need to make sure you can tell the difference between true ladybugs and Asian lady beetles. Learning how to correctly identify ladybugs helps you correctly identify bugs that are not ladybugs, too. The following list includes characteristics of a true ladybug:
- Ladybugs have mostly black heads, with little white “cheeks”.
- They are red, with black spots.
- Ladybugs do not have an “M” shape below their head.
- You almost always find them outdoors.
Ladybugs love to eat aphids, which is wonderful for you, the gardener. Aphids are among your worst garden enemies. In fact, many people order ladybugs in bulk to spread them around their gardens to devour the aphid population.
What is unique about Asian lady beetles?
There are a few distinct differences between ladybugs and Asian lady beetles. Keep these identifying marks in mind:
- While Asian lady beetles can be red, they are most often pinkish or orange-ish in color.
- They always have a black “M” shape just below their head, sometimes thin, sometimes thick, which is surrounded by shades of white.
- You can often find them inside your home.
- They can be aggressive and bite. (Ladybugs do not.)
Asian lady beetles are also beneficial to gardeners and farmers, mainly because they eat aphids, just like ladybugs do. They are invasive in homes, though, and can spray a stinky, yellow liquid, when disturbed. If you have a dog, beware that if he or she eats Asian lady beetles, it can cause an upset stomach.
Butterflies and bees should be welcomed with other insects and bugs
Most plants you grow in a home garden for food need pollination to bear fruit. To spark pollination, you need pollinators. Butterflies and bees are the top pollinators for a home vegetable garden. To encourage their presence, you can do things like plant a butterfly bush or other flowering plants they will feed on. Learn what the species of butterflies in your area eat and lay eggs on.
So many people have been taught to kill bees when they see them. Please, please, please do not do this! If you’re allergic, it’s understandable why you wouldn’t want them in your proximity. However, the human race cannot survive without bees. In a garden, they are the number one pollinator.
The praying mantis is also your garden friend
If you ever come across an egg sac of a praying mantis on your property, try to gently relocate it to your garden. When the eggs hatch, there may be as many as 200 tiny insects. It’s good to encourage them to take up residence where you’re growing food. The only possible downside to having these insects in your garden is that they might also feast on some of your other helpful insects and bugs, such as the butterflies or bee. But — since they’re aggressive predators for caterpillars, mites and other “bad” pests, it might just be worth having them around.
A recap of the 5 good insects and bugs for your garden
The term “integrated pest management” refers to an eco-friendly way of gardening. Instead of using chemical sprays and other toxins to deter bad pests, you invite their predators to live in your garden. Here’s a recap of five garden friends that can help keep the nasty pest population to a minimum:
- Asian lady beetles
- Praying Mantids
Learning to co-exist with the insects and bugs in your garden creates a natural, healthy environment where you crops can thrive. When your crops thrive, you can put delicious, healthy food on your table!