Thursday, June 10, 2021

Attract Beneficial Insects to Your Garden

By: Candice Keast

Ladybug perched on a flower bud.
Adult Ladybug - Coccinellidae

Throughout the growing season, you'll definitely encounter a variety of different insects in your garden, depending on what you're growing. You might think that most insects are pests and bad for your garden but on the contrary: there are a number of beneficial insects that help keep your garden happy and healthy, naturally. There are three different types of beneficial insects: predatory, pollinators, and parasitizers.

In this blog post, I'll highlight a few garden guardians.


Ladybugs

Perhaps one of the most recognizable beneficial insects is the ladybug or lady beetle. Not just a pretty face, these bugs can eat up to 5,000 insects throughout their life. Ladybugs will eat aphids, scales, spider mites, and thrips.

 

Attract ladybugs by growing dill, dandelion, calendula, chives, cilantro, marigold, and yarrow.


Ladybug larva on a leaf.
Ladybug Larva - Coccinellidae

Have you seen this bug roaming your garden? Don't let its troublemaking look and spikey body intimidate you. I recently learned that these bugs are ladybug larvae - this is what they look like before they turn into the pretty red beetles with black spots. They're even more helpful than adult ladybugs because their appetite for aphids is even bigger!

 

Lacewings

Green lacewings are beautiful insects with large lacy wings and are excellent natural predators. Their  larvae consume aphids, caterpillars, cutworms, whitefly, spider mites, thrips, and mealybugs.

 

Attract lacewings by growing dill, dandelion, cilantro, and Queen Anne's lace. 


Green lacewing on a leaf.
Green Lacewing - Chrysopidae

Soldier beetle

Solider bugs are cousins of stink bugs and eat aphids, cucumber beetle larvae, caterpillars, and grasshopper eggs.


Attract soldier bugs by growing goldenrod, hydrangea, marigold, milkweed, and even catnip! 


Soldier beetle on blade of grass.
Soldier beetle - Cantharidae

Assassin bugs

Assassin bugs are beneficial to your garden as they eat aphids, beetles, caterpillars, flies and mosquitoes. If you see an assassin bug in your garden, let it be. They are known to bite if touched or disturbed. See link below for picture. 


Hoverflies

Adult hoverflies are often mistaken for bees because of their colouring, but you can distinguish them by looking at their wings. Bees and wasps have four wings, while hoverflies have two. They hover and dart about, looking for pollen and nectar. Also known as Syrphid fly, the adults are considered pollinators. However, the larvae are very effective predators as they eat aphids and mealybugs.

 

Attract hoverflies by growing calendula, dill, and garlic chives.


Hoverfly on a leaf.
Hoveryfly - Syrphidae

Native Bees

Did you know that Toronto is home to over 360 species of bees? Pollinators are critical to the survival of most food crops and flowering plants. In fact, it is said that 1 out of every 3 bites of food is because of pollinators. Unfortunately, native bees are in decline because of several factors, including habitat loss, invasive species, pesticides, climate change, and more. Furthermore, native bees are the most specialized and efficient pollinators. When native bees disappear, they disappear forever.


Attract native bees by planting native plants like Anise hyssop, wild geranium, nodding onion and New England asters. Check out our Wild About Bees page for more native plant ideas.


Toronto's Official Bee - the metallic green sweat bee on the centre of an echinacea flower.
Toronto's Official Bee - Agapostemon virescens


Braconid Wasps 

Braconid wasps are small, non-aggressive parasitoids. They sting and lay eggs inside of their prey's body. Their prey of choice are tomato hornworms, but if there's none around, they'll lay eggs in other pests like cabbage worms, aphids, beetle larvae, leaf miners, etc.  

Attract braconids by growing carrots, dill, lemon balm, and parsley. 

Braconid wasp on leaf.
Braconid Wasp - Braconidae 

Honourable Mentions 

Spiders and centipedes often get a bad rap because of their looks, but these insects are incredible for your garden. Centipedes will eat soil-dwelling pests like worms, slugs, and fly pupae. Most spiders you see in the garden are harmless to humans. If you see a spider in your garden, leave them be – they'll be doing you a favour by eating pests in your garden – including mosquitos! 

If you want a more in-depth look at the insects listed above, check out this page.

As always, feel free to ask questions in the comment section below. If you come across a beneficial insect in your garden, share with us on social media by tagging @LiveGreenTO and using the hashtag #GetGrowing.


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