Good Garden Bugs for Pest Control

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

  • There are many ways to incorporate insectary plants into your home landscape. Containers are a great way to get creative with small, mobile insectaries using annual plants.
    Illustration by Michael Cooley
  • Biological control can be combined with other management practices such as the use of row covers to create a sustainable home garden.
    Photo by Jim Jasinski
  • Wasp pupae and emerging adults are often sent within a bottle containing a carrier. The bottle is designed to allow you to shake the pupae onto or near infested plants.
    Photo by MaLisa Spring
  • Natural enemies can face harsh conditions on their way to the garden, such as being left on a hot porch while you are at work.
    Photo by MaLisa Spring
  • Convergent lady beetles are shipped as adults, typically in a small mesh or cotton bag.
    Photo by MaLisa Spring
  • Spiders are voracious predators, but they actually eat a more diversified diet than most people realize. Active hunting spiders can visit flowers and consume pollen directly.
    Photo by Julie A. Peterson
  • Buffer strips of annual or perennial plants can be established in or adjacent to vegetable gardens or home orchards. If you are interested in creating an insectary with perennial plants, using native species is a great option.
    Illustration by Michael Cooley
  • Here a predatory wasp was photographed consuming extrafloral nectar from a common vetch plant.
    Photo by Thomas Wilson
  • Nectar isn’t only found in flowers. Many plants have extrafloral nectaries that provide natural enemies with an accessible source of sugar, amino acids, and water.
    Photo by MaLisa Spring
  • Companies such as American Meadows offer alternative lawn seed mixes that include fescue grasses and low-growing, flowering plants.
    Photo by American Meadows
  • This “Bee Hotel” at Michigan State University incorporates nesting blocks with holes of varying sizes, paper straws, and hollow stems to encourage nesting by a wide diversity of bees and wasps.
    Photo by Julianna Wilson
  • Many garden centers and online businesses sell nesting blocks designed for mason bees.
    Photo by MaLisa Spring
  • Natural enemy shelters such as this one offer a protected space to escape predators and unfavorable temperatures. Anthony Anfuso designed and built this lady beetle house.
    Photo by Anthony Anfuso
  • “Good Garden Bugs” is an easy-to-follow reference to beneficial insects that provide pest control, allowing your garden to grow full and bountiful.
    Cover courtesy Quarry Books

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.

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. 

Importation Biological Control

Importation biological control targets species that have been accidently introduced into the United States. These pests are referred to as invasive, meaning a non-native species that causes significant harm to our environment. Examples of such pests include the emerald ash borer (Buprestidae: Agrilus planipennis), which has decimated our native ash trees, and the red imported fire ant (Formicidae: Solenopsis invicta), which have displaced native ants and, when encountered in home landscapes, will sting people and pets. These invasive pests arrive in many ways, including on infested nursery stock or in the surrounding soil, on imported fruits and vegetables, or, as is the case with wood-boring insects, within pallets of untreated lumber or furniture. And, like many invasive plants, some have been intentionally released. Aquatic invaders have also been known to hitch a ride within the ballast water of ships. The vast majority of these invaders are detected when the contaminated shipments arrive and are inspected in a United States’ port of entry. Unfortunately, however, the small number of invasive species that make it past this process can cause considerable damage to the balance within existing ecosystems.

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