Bugs don’t fill too many people with a sense of welcoming joy. Besides being exterminated and squashed, they are generally loathed, or at best, avoided. But if you want a healthy, flourishing garden, full of delightful vegetables, colorful flowers and thriving greenery, bugs may be one of your very best allies.
When it comes to those multi-legged critters, not all bugs are created equal. Some will feast on your foliage and bring your rhododendrons to ruin. But others will feast on the feasters, protecting your flowers, herbs, leafy greens and trees from damage and even demise. Others still will help your landscape bloom.
So what are these friendly creatures and how do you invite them to visit and stay for a while? Here are a few beneficial insects and how to lay out the welcome mat for them.
You’re probably keen to avoid them, but few things are as vital to a healthy landscape and the very existence of our own human race as bees. If not for bees, we would lose a vast array of foods – crops as diverse as apples, onions, flax, watermelon, vanilla, Brussels sprouts, carrots, lemons and coffee survive through pollination by bees.
On a smaller scale, the flowers you so cherish in your garden also survive and thrive thanks to our buzzing friends. While it may seem like just about any colorful petal will attract a bee, some flowers are more inviting and will help bees be more successful in your garden.
Native species are particularly important, since bees evolved along with the plants and flowers indigenous to their habitat. So before you reach for the exotic ornamentals, consider starting with a few native plants and wildflowers.
Diversity is also important. That means planting flowers that bloom in early spring, summer and fall. Not all types of bees are active at the same time of year, so provide them with blooms that work for different seasons. Basil, Zinnia, Wild Rose, Verbena and Paint Brush are some especially attractive plants to bees.
Color matters, too. Bees tend to be more attracted to blue, yellow and purple. Flat or shallow blooms, especially those with a single ring of petals instead of their fuller, showier cousins, make it easier for bees to reach pollen-laden stamen.
If you’re planting vegetables, go for bloomers like pumpkin, squash, potatoes, carrots, and even fruit trees.
When it comes to bees, trust your mother’s advice: if you don’t bother them, they won’t bother you. And more importantly, they will reward you with a flourishing garden.
They’re not only beautiful additions to your garden, but they’re pollinators, too. Much like bees, they thrive when provided with native plants. And like bees, they enjoy blooms in purple and yellow, but are also attracted to bright reds, orange and pink.
Dianthus, Coneflower and Lavender are but a few of a butterfly’s favorites. But remember, butterflies aren’t always butterflies! They begin as caterpillars, which enjoy grasses for nesting. Why just invite butterflies when you can birth them?
Beyond the blooms, butterflies need a place to rest, and they prefer to do so in flat, sunny places. You can invite them to stay by adding some flat stones to your garden, or even a table where they can alight.
Water is important, too. They especially like to reenergize in a small puddle or slightly muddy area. We’re not talking about birdbath-sized puddles – all you really need is the right stone with a bit of a dip to collect some leftover rainwater, or a landing spot near your pond where water can collect. Better yet if those puddles are in the warm, bright sun.
Few things will bring a smile to a child’s face like catching a lightning bug – or watching a ladybug wander purposefully up her arm. If you want a healthy, thriving landscape, they should bring a smile to your face, too.
Ladybugs are a bit like the holy grail of gardening. They feast on aphids and mites, two of the most destructive plant parasites. Oddly enough – and certainly counterintuitively – one of the best ways to invite ladybugs is to leave the aphids in your garden alone. Rather than fighting them or using a commercial chemical pesticide, use them as bait for ladybugs, which will make quick dinner of those pests and maybe even delight your inner child.
In addition to bugs, ladybugs need pollen, so keep the blooms coming, especially those in white and yellow. Ladybugs are particularly attracted to Marigold, Calendula, Sweet Alyssum and even herbs like cilantro and dill.
One of the best things about ladybugs is that even if you don’t have any luck inviting them, they are easily purchased – and if you put the right conditions in place, they will be convinced to stay.
So far we’ve talked about insects that are beneficial – and even enjoyable. But if you’ve ever lifted a rock to see one of these shiny black critters dart off, you may feel a bit squeamish right now.
Beyond their ability to startle us when disturbed, ground beetles are actually rather solitary and would prefer to be left under that rock than to come out and bug you. Of the nearly 2,000 species in North America, the majority of these garden friends are nocturnal so you may never cross paths at all.
Ground beetles are particularly helpful in controlling gypsy moths, one of the most destructive pests you’ll encounter. They can also help eliminate the need for pesticides by dining on some of our most common pests, including ants, aphids, maggots and slugs.
Some species also eat the seeds of invasive weeds like ragweed and thistle, so if you’re looking for a real workhorse of an insect, this one should be your choice.
It should be no surprise by now that one of the best ways to attract any beneficial insect – and that goes for ground beetles – is to include native plants in your garden, especially perennials and grasses. Add a layer of mulch and be sure you’ve created a beetle sanctuary by including rocks or logs where beetles can hide. As an added bonus, you can leave that pile of leaves on the ground right where it is without feeling the slightest bit guilty. A bit of decaying debris is the perfect home for friendly beetles.
These are just four of the insects that you want to invite – and keep – as garden allies. With native and seasonal plantings, the right mix of color, and a few additions like water and stone, you can create a welcoming environment for beneficial insects.
And with the right mix of beneficial insects, you can enjoy a healthy, thriving and pesticide-free garden all year long.
If you’d like to talk about creating a beautiful, sustainable and organic outdoor space that you and your family can enjoy, contact us for a consultation and let’s talk about your outdoor dreams.