Monday, June 3, 2013

Plant list for attracting beneficial insects

It's easy to attract beneficial insects to your garden. Just plant flowers they like and can feed from when they've run out of aphids, caterpillars, leafhoppers and mites.

You can integrate these flowers in an established bed, or grow a 'Beneficial Garden' -- one you design and create. Plant both perennials and annuals. See Plant List below.

Here's the basics: 
Food: Resist the urge to destroy those aphids. If you've ever bought ladybugs and wondered why they didn't stick around, it's because they ate all the aphids and didn't have flower nectar to supplement their diet.  
Water: good bugs thrive in a moist environment. Provide water in any form: bird bath, sprinklers, misting.
Shelter: Give the good bugs some cool shelter during the day in the form of mulch, low growing ground cover, or established plants where they can be undisturbed.  
  • Don't use chemical insecticides because they will kill the good bugs too. Give them time to find your pests. If you must, use the least harmful botanical and natural controls possible (like garlic and hot pepper sprays, water hosing) to slow the bad bugs down.
  • Let some of the weeds grow. Yes, you read that right. Hopefully you have an area where you can let some plants mature and flower. What are good weeds? Umbelliferous weeds, those with umbrella-like flower heads, such as Queen Anne's lace, host beneficial insects like lacewings. Other weeds like motherwort and dandelion attract bees which are essential for pollination. Some weeds attract aphids. If you can keep yourself from pulling them out, the beneficials will love you and stick around. 
  • Bolting Brassicas! Let some of your garden plants 'bolt'. Brassicas are members of the mustard family, including cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, and turnip, rutabaga, kohlrabi and brussel sprouts. Their flowers provide critical sources of nectar for pollinators and parasitic wasps. If you let some of those brassicas flower right in your garden, they will release chemical signals that draw parasitoid wasps, syrphid flies and ladybugs right into the foliage of your other plants where they'll scour the leaves for insect pests.
  • Have a wide variety of flowers; plant early, middle and late blooming flowers. Diversity is important-three species of flower blooming at the same time is ideal.
  • Size: Create a grouping of flowers that is large enough to attract insects, around 25 square feet.
  • Create your border in a sunny spot. Most beneficial plants are sun lovers.
  • Good bugs hate dry dusty habitats. Keep your soil covered with mulch or ground cover type plants, which also conserves moisture, moderates temperatures, and eliminates dust.
Creating a habitat for good bugs is an inexact science. It takes observation, experimentation and time. Organic pest control is not a quick fix, but there's nothing more thrilling than spotting a lacewing, ladybug or hover fly buzzing around. You know your risk taking was worth it the first time you discover what an aphid mummy is. 

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