Good Garden Bugs for Pest Control

Replace chemical pesticides with a natural pest control by incorporating beneficial insects into your organic garden.

| October 2015

Aphids, caterpillars, grubs, and slugs are not only creepy-crawlies: They can wreak havoc on your garden and plants. But fear not! You don't need dangerous chemicals to enjoy a lively, healthy garden. The secret? More lady beetles, fewer aphids! Wildlife in your garden--especially insects--can be natural pesticide alternatives. In Good Garden Bugs (Quarry Books, 2015), entomologist Mary Gardiner tells you how to identify these beneficial bugs, how to enhance your home landscape as a habitat, and how to work with them to grow and enjoy your garden.

You can purchase this book from the GRIT store: Good Garden Bugs.

With the right balance of plant-feeding herbivores and natural enemies, you can create a sustainable garden at home. Gardeners can achieve this balance in part by applying biological control tactics, which range from releasing natural enemies to conserving those already present within your landscape. Here, I describe how importation, augmentation, and conservation biological control can be useful to gardeners who are trying to manage home landscape pests.

Importation and augmentation biological control both focus on releasing natural enemies into the landscape. Importation involves the release of nonnative natural enemies in order to reduce populations of invasive pests accidently introduced into the United States. As gardeners, we are not going to perform these importation biological control releases ourselves, but we benefit from successful programs that reduce damage to garden and landscape plants. We can perform our own augmentation biological control releases, where naturally occurring predators or parasitoids can be purchased and introduced into the garden to combat pest infestations.

When thinking about applying biological control practices in a home landscape, however, conservation biological control is the place to start. Conservation biological control involves building up existing natural enemy communities by creating a suitable habitat that provides all the resources they need to thrive. Application of these conservation practices can mitigate the need to take further action, whether that is the release of biological control agents or the use of chemicals to control insect pests.

Also consider other nonchemical control methods that can be used with biological control to manage pests. This can be as simple as removing the pests by hand. For small gardens, dropping pests into a bucket of soapy water works well for immobile or slow-moving pests such as pest eggs and many larvae. For other very mobile and damaging pests, such as striped and spotted cucumber beetles (Chrysomelidae: Acalymma vittatum and Diabrotica undecimpunctata), try covering the plants with row covers to prevent the beetles from accessing their food source. These covers can be placed over the crop and may be used with or without hoops (when used without hoops, they are called floating row covers). For crops that require bee pollination, however, you will need to remove the cover when the plant is flowering. This gives the plant a pest-free window prior to flowering, with biological control coming into play after the row cover is removed. 

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