Beneficial Insects: Get to Know the Good Garden Bugs

Familiarizing yourself with beneficial garden insects is an important step toward keeping pests away and your garden healthy.

  • Spiders, lady beetles and praying mantises are all insects that may help keep your garden robust.
    Photo courtesy Storey Publishing
  • "The Wildlife-Friendly Vegetable Gardener" shows you how to create a peaceful co-existence between your vegetable garden and the wildlife who consider it part of their habitat.
    Photo courtesy Storey Publishing

Tammi Hartung shares her successful methods for attracting pollinators, nourishing soil and deterring pests in The Wildlife-Friendly Vegetable Gardener (Storey Publishing, 2014). Because virtually every garden has pests — animals and bugs that wreak havoc on healthy plants — getting familiar with beneficial insects is a natural, proactive measure toward keeping garden pests at bay. Learn more about good bugs in this excerpt from Chapter 4: “Attracting Pollinators and Beneficial Predators.”

Purchase this book from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: The Wildlife-Friendly Vegetable Gardener.

Beneficial insects manage pests that seem to come to every vegetable garden at some point during the growing season, so a wise gardener makes them welcome. Each type has its favorite prey, so it is quite important to encourage a diverse community of them in the garden space. These “good bugs” consist of both insects and spiders (which are arachnids, not insects). Before you can welcome predators into the garden, you must be able to recognize which are helpful and good and which are pests. Once you can distinguish which bugs you want to encourage, and which you do not want wreaking havoc, you can begin to welcome the beneficial ones to help you eradicate the pests.

Meet the Beneficial Insects

A lady beetle larva will eat 25 aphids a day and the adult lady beetle will eat as many as 60. Both adults and larvae feed on soft-bodied pests, such as caterpillars as well as aphids. Most adults have bright-colored wing shells that are orange, yellow, or red with black spots, but some have black shells with orange spots. The larvae look totally unlike beetles — they have black elongated bodies with yellow or orange markings on them.

Adult lacewings are lovely creatures with translucent, sparkling wings on green or brown bodies. Green lacewings frequent gardens, whereas their brown cousins prefer more cover and tend to live in trees and shrubs. Lacewing larvae, sometimes called aphid lions, have hooked jaws and look a bit like alligators. They are aggressive hunters of many pests, including aphids, mites, and leafhoppers. Green lacewing eggs are easy to recognize; laid individually or in clusters, they have a silken, threadlike stalk that attaches them to a plant.

Spined soldier bugs look like their relatives the stinkbugs, having that same armor-type shell. They produce the same disagreeable odor if crushed. Unlike pest stinkbugs, spined soldier bugs mostly eat caterpillars, by stabbing them with their sucking mouthparts. They are common in gardens and very beneficial.

3/8/2016 11:20:53 PM

Good information! Hot pepper sprays and garlic concoctions can actually scare off beneficial insects that naturally take care of pests. I'm so passionate about this that I wrote a book about it. Released March 8th, 2016, it has over 100 original images and surprising tips: "Organic Pest Control Secrets for a Non-Toxic Garden". I create innovative school gardens and have found many ways to keep pests away without a single drop of neem oil or DIY spray. Please check it out on Amazon or on HomeGrownFun.

3/13/2015 12:49:01 AM

I liked your article on garden bugs.I completed second with you that beneficial insects manage pests that seem to come to every vegetable garden at some point during the growing season.By using your ideas one can protect their garden.Thanks for great tips.

Live The Good Life with GRIT!

Grit JulAug 2016At GRIT, we have a tradition of respecting the land that sustains rural America. That's why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing to GRIT through our automatic renewal savings plan. By paying now with a credit card, you save an additional $6 and get 6 issues of GRIT for only $16.95 (USA only).

Or, Bill Me Later and send me one year of GRIT for just $22.95!

Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube Twitter

Free Product Information Classifieds Newsletters