By Tom Snyder | Special to the NB Indy
“Good bugs” can be a homeowner’s best friend, while “bad bugs” can wipe out weeks of gardening in just a few days.
By definition, it’s easy to know the difference: bad bugs feed on plants, sometimes causing severe damage. The notorious bad-bug gang of four: aphids, whitefly, scale and mealybugs.
Good bugs, on the other hand, have a different food preference. They feed on bad bugs. Good bugs end a generous meal of harmful bugs with the nectar of flowering plants for dessert.
Ladybugs are beloved and well-known beneficial insects, but there are others. Praying mantises will eat aphids, whitefly and others. Fragile-looking green lacewings feed on aphids, mites and other small insects and insect eggs. Hoverflies look like little bees, hovering and darting in the garden. They feed on aphids, mealybugs and others. Tiny mini-wasps that don’t sting, parasitic wasps, lay eggs in the bodies of insect pests. After hatching, they feed on the host pest.
Ladybugs harvested from colonies in California’s foothills can be purchased spring through summer at most garden centers. They’ll stay in your garden as long as there’s something to eat. If they leave, that’s OK. It means your garden’s clean and they’re on to your neighbor’s yard.
Praying mantis egg cases can also be purchased, but only during spring. They’ll hatch by summertime. Each egg case is placed in your garden where the mantises will hatch and meander through your garden. It’s always a bit startling to meet up with a full-grown mantis (lugubrious and harmless) later in the summer. It’s clear they’ve eaten more than a few bad bugs.
Green lacewings must be special-ordered at your neighborhood nursery and will be delivered directly to you. Since they don’t store well, you’ll want to release them immediately to do their work.
The others, hoverflies and parasitic wasps, are not purchased; they must be invited to your garden. Since beneficial insects also feed on nectar and pollen from flowering plants, all good bugs (including ladybugs, praying mantises and green lacewings) can be enticed and encouraged to come into your garden. You just have to plant their favorite flowers.
Of course, nectar-sipping, pest-eating good
bugs also help pollinate your fruit and vegetable crops and increase yields. These beneficials will also allow you to garden as safely as possible. There’s no need to worry about harming pets or children with chemical sprays. You’re also encouraging biodiversity in your garden by gardening organically.
Here are seven top plants to attract beneficial insects to Southern California gardens.
Bachelor buttons, or cornflowers, make beautiful cut flowers and are easily grown from seed or six-packs.
Fragrant and beautiful, sweet alyssum is a popular flower bed edging plant and grows year-round here.
Borage has beautiful, edible, blue flowers, and grows easily from seed. It also re-seeds very easily.
Looking a bit like lavender, Agastache is a great hot-weather, low-water plant.
Fennel looks sensational in mixed flower borders and can be grown from seed or small plants. When in bloom, ornamental grasses attract beneficial insects and there are lots of choices. Growing corn from seeds or plants has the obvious benefit of homegrown flavor, but will also attract bug-eating insects to your garden.
There are other good bug attractors, including dill, scabiosa, sunflower, catmint, coneflower, yarrow, lavender, Queen Anne’s lace, California lilac, cosmos, Pyracantha, milkweed, and penstemon.
Remember, to protect your good bugs, you don’t want to use synthetic pesticides. Only use organic ones judiciously and carefully. It will also help if your entire garden is organic, including fertilizers and amendments.
Tom Snyder is a California Certified Nursery Professional and the manager of the Armstrong Garden Centers located at 1500 East Coast Highway. Email gardening questions to [email protected] or call (949) 644-9510.