The insect world is swarming with species ready to provide valuable services in the garden. From pollinating fruits and vegetables to managing pests, they have an important role to play. Pollinators have recently received a great deal of attention as allies, and gardeners are now taking steps to protect them. However, another important group of insects – the predators that help keep pests in check – could also use a helping hand. By reducing pesticide use and planting floral resources, you can go a long way toward supporting beneficial species. Here’s how to get started.
Knowing the good from the bad is an important first step toward protecting and encouraging garden helpers. Some beneficial insects are familiar, such as lady beetles, lightning bugs and dragonflies. Others have a bad reputation. Did you know spiders, wasps, and ants are all important predators? Here are a few very common insect predators you are likely to find in the garden, but may not recognize.
Hoverflies or Flower Flies
Often mistaken for bees. Larvae eat aphids and adults pollinate flowers.
Larvae are voracious eaters, feeding on aphids, mites, whiteflies and insect eggs.
Many prey items include aphids, leafhoppers, caterpillars, and immature beetles.
Many beetle species are predators. This garden jewel feeds on ants, immature grasshoppers, caterpillars, and flies.
While some wasp species pose a risk of stinging, most are harmless. Many are so tiny you never notice their presence. All wasps help manage garden pests.
Send an Invitation
Like all animals, insects require a few basic necessities to live: food, water and shelter. In addition to feasting on delicious insects, predators also sip nectar and pollen from flowers. Floral resources provide energy necessary for survival and reproduction. Planting an abundance of flowering plants throughout the landscape is the best way to attract and support beneficial insects. Plan for a full season of flowers to provide a continuous supply of nectar. Focus on plants that have numerous small flowers and avoid hybrids with “double” flowers, as these typically have little nectar.
These selections from the Southern Living® Plant Collection provide excellent sources of nectar and pollen to attract beneficial insects to the garden.
Crazy Pink™ Echinacea – At first glance, we may see each pink-rimmed cone as a single flower, but the cone actually contains hundreds of tiny disc flowers rich in nectar. Flowers attract bees and butterflies, as well as hover flies, predatory beetles and wasps (wasps are good, remember).
Dark Blue Moody Blues™ Veronica – The deep blue flowers will attract pollinators all season long and draw lady beetles and hover flies into the garden. The upright flowers are also a butterfly favorite.
‘Sunset Flash’ Gaillardia – This native beauty attracts a wide variety of pollinators and beneficial insects. Look for native bees and tiny, non-stinging wasps. You will also find hover flies buzzing about the blooms.
‘Real Charmer’ Leucanthemum – The disc flowers in the center eye are intact, offering a source of pollen and nectar for small non-stinging wasps and native bees. Also look for the minute pirate bug and predatory mites – yes, these are good mites that eat the bad ones!
Saucy™ Wine Salvia – In addition to providing pollen and nectar, the sturdy stems and lush foliage provide a protective site for shelter and egg-laying.