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Garden Insects: Friend or Foe?

Use this guide to garden insects as a tool to attract the good and repel the bad.

| July/ August 2017

  • Not all garden bugs are harmful! Many can provide pest control, pollination and more beneficial elements.
    Photo by iStock; ferrantraite
  • Lady beetles, or ladybugs, munch on plant-destroying aphids.
    Photo by iStock; arlindo71
  • Stink bugs feed on other insects as well as plants.
    Photo by iStock; epantha
  • Lacewing larvae provide a great benefit to your garden.
    Photo by iStock; AlasdairJames
  • Praying Mantids take care of grasshoppers, crickets, flies and moths.
    Photo by iStock; GlobalP
  • Spiders are a great natural source of garden pest control.
    Photo by iStock; arlindo71
  • Wasps that aren't yellow jackets or red wasps can be useful pollinators.
    Photo by iStock; Antagain
  • Earthworms, mites and underground spiders assist with soil aeration and decomposition.
    Photo by iStock; GlobalP
  • Squash bugs suck the juice from pumpkins and squash.
    Photo by iStock; JuliScalzi
  • Aphids suck juices from plant leaves.
    Photo by iStock; arlindo71
  • Southern green stink bugs leave yellow blotches on tomatoes.
    Photo by iStock; arlindo71
  • Cucumber beetles can be prevented with a simple garlic and chili pepper spray.
    Photo by iStock; mpiokpee
  • Squash vine borers destroy the inside of plant stems.
    Photo by iStock
  • Flea beetles create holes in plant leaves that can cause irreparable damage to plants.
    By iStock
  • Cabbage looper worms eat holes through cabbage and collard greens.
    Photo by iStock; Tpopove
  • The Colorado Potato beetle can completely destroy a potato crop.
    Photo by iStock; GlobalP
  • Tomato hornworms will eat entire leaves and stems of tomato plants.
    Photo by iStock; gabes1976
  • Dill attracts beneficial bugs.
    Photo by iStock; AndreyTTL

From wasps buzzing among the blooms to squash bugs decimating an entire crop, insects can be a nuisance. But before you balk at their existence, consider that, without insects, we couldn’t grow gardens at all. Indeed, the world of insects is so important, life on Earth is dependent on their existence. Still, some insects can destroy months of work overnight. Learning to tell the difference between friend and foe, and how to manage each, is vital to building a productive garden.

Friendly Fellows

Many of the insects that call our gardens home are incredibly helpful for its productivity. They increase the fertility of our soil and prey on pests that eat plants or spread disease. Encouraging the presence of the friendly insects is as fruitful as ridding our gardens of the foes.

Lady Beetles: Small, round, polka-dotted lady beetles, also known as ladybugs, love to get their mandibles on problematic aphids, mites, thrips, mealybugs and insect eggs. Although many native species of ladybugs exist, the most common lady beetle found in home gardens is the non-native Asian lady beetle, which has quickly grown in population. They tend to cluster around and in buildings as cooler temperatures arrive, and what is certainly welcome in the garden can quickly become an unwelcome pest indoors. Seal cracks and crevices around doors and windows well before fall temperatures arrive.

Big-Eyed Bugs, Stink Bugs, and Assassin Bugs: These “true bugs” all come equipped with mouthparts designed to suck the juice out of bugs and plants alike. Assassin bugs are larger than most other predatory bugs with long narrow heads, round eyes, and a long syringe-like beak. They feast on grasshoppers, flies, beetles and caterpillars. Big-eyed bugs are oval with wide, sometimes triangle-shaped heads and big bulging eyes. They prey on mites and tiny insects. Stink bugs have a shield-shaped, hard body and are green or brown. Though many stink bugs feed on plants, predatory types consume unwanted pests. Stink bugs emit a strong smell when disturbed, hence their delightful name.

Lacewings: Lacewings are slight, airy flying insects with wings that look like finely woven nets. The insects come in green (up to 1 inch) and brown (around 1/2 inch). The larvae of the lacewing, resembling tiny alligators, provide the most benefit to the garden. Voracious eaters, they devour prey by sucking out their bodily fluids.

Praying Mantids: These hulking creatures, green or brown with triangle-shaped heads and bulbous eyes, and often postured in a prayer position, will take down anything in their path, including other beneficials. Most often found in the late summer and early fall and gone by the first frost, they are kings of their domain. Impressive in stature, they conquer larger insects such as grasshoppers, crickets, flies and moths.

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