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Parasitic wasps eggs on hornworm

AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala. – Soon, gardeners everywhere will be spending a lot of time in their gardens. However, they will not be the only ones spending time there. There will be many insects looking to enjoy the developing plants as well. While some will cause damage, there are several beneficial insects that gardeners want to see in their gardens. These beneficial insects help fight against damaging insects and also provide other benefits.

Beneficial Insects

Lucy Edwards, an Alabama Extension home grounds regional agent, compiled a list of common beneficial insects and the benefits they offer.

Lady beetles

Known as lady bugs, the adult and larvae species eat aphids. Aphids are destructive and sap-sucking insects known to be a gardener and farmers worst nightmare.


The larvae feed on many soft-bodied insects such as aphids and caterpillars.

Syrphid flies

Also called Hoverflies or flower flies. Their larvae also eat aphids and the adults pollinate flowers.

Parasitic mini-wasps

The females lay eggs on insects such as aphids or caterpillars; their hatching larvae consume the pest and kill it.


All spiders feed on insects or other arthropods and are greatly beneficial in the garden.




Each insect has its own unique benefit it offers in the garden. A lot of the aid insects provide depends on the lifecycle stage they’re in.

Edwards said these insects could be feeding on insect pests in one lifecycle and helping pollinate your plants in another.

“Without insects, three-fourths of our world’s flowering plants would not be pollinated,” Edwards said.

Plants That Attract Beneficial Insects

In hopes of attracting these beneficial insects, many gardeners will plant different types of plants just for these insects. Edwards said that beneficial insects have favorite plants they like to stay on. Some of the plants these insects are attracted to most are:

  • Dill
  • Cilantro
  • Queen Ann’s lace
  • Basil, Alyssum
  • Fennel
  • Yarrow
  • Garlic chives
  • Anise hyssop
  • Angelica
  • Parsley
  • Tansy
  • Cosmos
  • Mints

“Even though these and other flowering plants and shrubs are their go-to’s, when desperate, beneficial insects venture to other plants,” Edwards said.

Insect Pests

When insect pests are found in a garden, it is a good indicator of a stressed plant. Edwards suggests homeowners inspect their plants for signs of stress that is weakening the plant. Stress could be caused by too much or too little water, too much or too little fertilizer or the plant was planted incorrectly or in the wrong location.

Edwards said there are other ways besides harmful pesticides gardeners can keep pests under control.

“Begin with a healthy plant in the right location. Next, care and maintain the plant as needed,” Edwards said. “People can use trap crops around a vegetable garden to attract the pest. Of course, there’s always the option to squash, trap or wash off the pest insects.”

More Information

Alabama Extension has many online resources that deal with the many aspects of vegetable and flower gardening. For more information, visit www.aces.edu or contact you county Extension office.

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