Author Tammi Hartung explains how the presence of good bugs can minimize the impact of the bad, and offers planting strategies for attracting the right species to your garden plot.

beneficial insects

Illustrations © Holly Ward Bimba, excerpted from The Wildlife-Friendly Vegetable Gardener.

Today was a warm sunny day for wintertime and I was walking through the garden just to have a look-about. I noticed the web of a monkey face spider left from last summer still clinging to the post of our back porch.

Beneficial insects and spiders are wonderful helpers in the garden landscape because they make small work of managing pest insects. It is well worth a bit of time to learn which insects are beneficial predators, like orb spiders, of which the monkey face spider is a member, and which are pest insects that can cause a great deal of damage to your vegetables, fruits, and flowers. Welcoming the beneficials into the garden can be really good, especially when those pesky aphids or flea beetles show up on your lettuces and broccoli.

Many folks know that lady beetles (aka ladybugs) eat pests like aphids, but there are other insects to welcome, like tachinid flies, which lay their eggs inside pest bugs like beetles and earwigs. Spined soldier bugs eat large pests like caterpillars, as do praying mantises, which are large enough themselves to take on a grasshopper. There are even tiny wasps, so small that you need a magnifying glass to see them well, but they are fierce to white flies because they sting the white fly larvae and parasitize it.

Spiders are good allies too, as they hunt and feed on all sorts of pest insects in the garden. Next time you see a spider and are tempted to squish it underfoot, think twice. If a spider in the garden is not a poisonous spider (and most are not) it is best to leave it be and let it help you keep those pest insects under control.

spider mantis beneficial insects

Banded argiope spider and praying mantis. Illustrations © Holly Ward Bimba, excerpted from The Wildlife-Friendly Vegetable Gardener.

You can encourage beneficial insects and spiders in the vegetable garden by inter-planting your food plants with aromatic herbs that will attract those predator insects. Mints are wonderful for attracting lacewings and ladybugs. Other fantastic herbs are anise hyssop and lemon balm. Chamomile, both German and Roman varieties, sage, and all the different kinds of thymes will be great for drawing those beneficial predator insects into your garden, too. As a bonus to these plants attracting the beneficial insects, you can also use the herbs in your cooking, and to make herbal tea or even herbal skin creams.

I’ll leave you with a final thought to remember: vegetarian insects are pests because they eat plants and can cause a lot of damage to your food garden. The meat-eating insects and spiders are beneficial predator insects that will hunt those pests down and get rid of them for you.

Another good thing about encouraging beneficial insects and spiders in your garden is that you will rarely be forced to use pesticides, even organic ones, as the predator insects will most likely take care of your pest management chores for you, leaving you time to harvest the bounty of green beans and strawberries. For my way of thinking, that is a much better use of my time than making war on the cabbage aphids. I’ll leave that work to the ladybugs!

If you would like some additional ideas, I hope you will check out my book, The Wildlife-Friendly Vegetable Gardener, or visit my blog, Desert Canyon Farm Green Thoughts.

Tammi Hartung

Tammi Hartung is the author of Cattail Moonshine & Milkweed Medicine, Homegrown Herbs, and The Wildlife-Friendly Vegetable Gardener. She has been growing and working with… See Bio

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The Wildlife-Friendly Vegetable Gardener

by Tammi Hartung

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