Lawn & Garden
Why You Want These Bugs In Your Garden
Most insects found in your garden don’t harm plants. In fact, 97 percent of the insects you see fall into this category! Such insects are called beneficials because they benefit the garden by pollinating plants, improving soil, and eating the pests that really harm plants. These hard-working beneficials can be a gardener’s best friend.
Before you stomp on or spray any unfamiliar bugs in your garden, make sure you know the good guys from the bad guys. Remember that most insects have stages of their life cycle, so the young (larva or nymph) may look totally different from the adult. And, keep in mind, it is often the “young” of the insect that eats the most pests. Learn to identify some of the most common beneficial insects.
Have a Smart Yard
- Provide shelter and overwintering sites by covering bare dirt with an organic mulch such as leaves or bark. Leave a small area of exposed soil to encourage solitary native bees that are ground nesters.
- Include a variety of pollen- and nectar-rich plants to provide a supplemental food source.
- Pesticides (particularly broad-spectrum pesticides that don’t target single pests) kill the beneficials as well as true garden pests. Only target treat pests to protect beneficial insects.
- Misused garden chemicals also affect water quality and other wildlife when rain or overwatering move the chemicals to storm drains and surface waters. For information on pesticide alternatives, go to www.aces.edu/blog/topics/ landscaping/garden-bugs-making-your-garden- vegetables-less-susceptible-to-insect-damage/.
Having a Good Defense
Many native plants have developed natural defenses to ward off insect pests and diseases. These defenses can eliminate the need for pesticides and reduce maintenance costs. Because native plants have adapted to grow in our specific climate, they often require very little care once established and are generally more tolerant of drought. The diversity of natives available offers gardeners great choices for both fragrant flowers and beautiful foliage—and provides food and habitat for our native birds, wildlife, butterflies, and beneficial insects.
Early fall is an ideal time to plant natives. The cool weather and rainfall will help young plants establish a healthy root system before colorful spring blooms emerge.
Top 10 Most Wanted Bugs In Your Garden
- Dragonfly. These insects are wanted for preying on unsuspecting flying insects such as mosquitoes, flies, and midges. Read more about the dragonfly.
- Green Lacewing. These insects are wanted for aggressively devouring aphids, thrips, mealybugs, scales, spider mites, leafhoppers, and insect eggs. Read more about green lacewings.
- Soldier Beetle. These insects are wanted for attacking and feeding on aphids and other soft-bodied insects. Read more about soldier beetles.
- Bee. These insects are wanted for pollinating the flowers of many ornamental, fruit, and vegetable plants. Read more about bees.
- Syrphid Fly. These insects are wanted for hunting down aphids, mealybugs, and other pests, and for pollinating plants. Read more about syrphid fly.
- Ground Beetle. These insects are wanted for conspiring to eat many soil-dwelling pests such as slugs, snails, cutworms, and root maggots. Read more about ground beetles.
- Parasitic Wasp. These insects are wanted for parasitizing the eggs and larvae of cutworms, cabbage loopers, codling moths, tomato hornworms, as well as all stages of aphids, whiteflies, scales, and other pests. Read more about parasitic wasp.
- Spider. These insects are wanted for trapping and bug-napping a variety of insect pests. Read more about spiders.
- Tachinid Fly. These insects are wanted for attacking unsuspecting caterpillars and beetles. Read more about the tachinid fly.
- Lady Beetle. These insects are wanted for gorging on soft-bodied insects such as aphids, scales, thrips, mealybugs, and spider mites. Read more about lady beetles.
Flowers for Beneficial Insects
Most beneficial insects need to supplement their diets with pollen and nectar. You can attract them to your garden and encourage them to stay and hunt for pests by offering them a variety of nectar and pollen-rich flowers. Choose a diversity of plants that bloom at different times so that the beneficials can feed throughout the year. Read here for more about flowers for beneficial insects.
Resources to Help Expand Your Search
Bug Guide: ID, Images for Insects, Spiders & Their Kin
Natural Enemies Gallery
Safe Use of IPM
Mike McQueen, Regional Extension Agent, Home Grounds, Gardens and Home Pests; Charles Ray, Research Fellow, Entomology and Plant Pathology, Auburn University; and Kerry Smith, State Master Gardener Program Coordinator, Auburn University
Reviewed November 2021, Top 10 Most Wanted Bugs in Your Garden, ANR-2283