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Beneficial Insects in the Garden

by Carolyn Hasenfratz

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Are you interested in making your garden more habitable to beneficial insects? Here is a list of invertebrates you might want in your garden, followed by a chart showing what plants are likely to attract them and what plants may repel pests.

Beneficial Insects and Invertebrates:

Bee Houses Bees: Important pollinators that are attracted by all flowering plants. Try to provide plants that bloom at different times. Fancy hybrids may look nice but be lacking as a food source - try to include some natives and heirloom varieties. The flowers don't necessarily have to be big - in my garden small flowers such as basil and mints are very popular with the bees and other desireable insects.

Some gardeners are providing bee houses. I have not tried this yet but it looks interesting! Pictured at the right are a couple ready to be installed at the Ewing and Muriel Kauffman Memorial Garden in Kansas City.

Butterflies: Most people want them in the garden for their beauty. Some butterfly species also contribute to pollinating. The larvae of some species can be pests on certain crops so you may or may not consider these beneficial depending on what you are trying to accomplish. Some species eat wooly aphids.

Dragonflies: They eat mosquitoes, aphids, gnats, flies, swarming ants, swarming termites, midges and other pests. Dragonflies are attracted to ponds and marshy areas - the larvae live in water, and predate on mosquito larvae.

Earthworms: They turn organic matter into fertilizer and make holes in the soil for drainage and plant roots. Put organic matter in or on the soil to attract a population.

Ground Beetles: Mulch, perennial plants, rocks and logs will attract ground beetles. They eat slugs, snails, cutworms, root maggots and Colorado potato beetle larvae. Some will eat caterpillars and insect eggs.

Hover Flies: Also known as Syrphid flies. They look like a small bee and feed on aphids, spider mites, mealy bugs, scale insects, green flies and small caterpillars. They are active early in spring. They also help to pollinate.

Lacewing Bugs: Larvae feed on aphids, thrips, scales, moth eggs, small caterpillars and mites.

Ladybugs: The adults and larvae consume aphids, spider mites and other soft-bodied pests.

Tomato Hornworm Moths: Some species are important pollinators while others can be pests. The example at left, a tobacco hornworm, is a pest on plants such as tomatoes, tobacco, potatoes and peppers. They may become prey to parasitic wasps. If you observe a larva with white cocoons on it, it has been parasitized and should be left in the garden to conserve the parasitic wasps that will emerge. Hand-picking is a good control otherwise. The adults are Carolina Sphinx Moths, and they are attracted by Japanese honeysuckle, moonflower and petunias, so you might want to avoid planting those if you have a hornworm problem.

Pill Bugs: Some people consider these to be pests and not beneficial. They have been one of my favorite bugs since I was very small and I've always paid attention to where I see them. I recall only ever seeing them around moist rotting wood or cardboard or dead plant matter, not on live plants, so to me they are beneficial because they help turn wood and other dead plant products into fertilizer. I have addded some to my vermiculture bin where they help break down the shredded paper bedding that I add from time to time. They are terrestrial crustaceans, not insects. They breathe with gills and that's why they stay in moist areas. Some people report that they are destructive to young plants.

Predatory Bugs: This group includes pirate bugs, ambush bugs, assassin bugs, and wheel bugs (a favorite of mine!) Members of this group eat tomato hornworms, thrips, spider mites, insect eggs, leafhopper nymphs, aphids, corn earworms and other small caterpillars. Don't pick up members of the true bug family - many will bite!

Praying Mantis Praying Mantis: When hunting they do not discriminate between pest insects and beneficial insects - for example I observed one in my garden hanging out just below basil flowers and lunging at bees - so you might not want to introduce them to your garden if they are not already there. One of my favorites - so intersting and beautiful.

Predatory wasps: Depending on the species will eat many garden pests and eggs including moths, caterpillars, beetle larvae, aphids and flies. They also do some pollination.

Predatory Flies: Includes robber flies and tachinid flies. They eat cutworms, armyworms, tent caterpillars, cabbage loopers, gypsy moths, sawflies, Japanese beetles, corn borers, stink bugs, squash bugs and sow bugs. They are attracted by pollen and nectar.

Soldier Beetles: They eat aphids, caterpillars, corn rootworms, cucumber beetles and grasshopper eggs.

Spiders: If you want to increase the spider population in your garden, you can provide shelter in the form of permanent perennial plantings and straw mulch. Spiders can be a lot less scary if you identify what kind are in your garden and read about them.

Beneficial Plant Chart*
Name of Plant What it Attracts What it Repels
Alfalfa Pirate Bugs
Angelica Lacewing Bugs, Tiny wasps
Aster family Tiny wasps Bagworms
Ocimum sp.

Asparagus Beetle, Flies, Mosquitoes, Tomato Hornworm (Opal Basil)
Squash Beetle, Tomato Hornworm
Black Cohosh
Actaea racemosa
General insect repellent
Bugleweed Ladybug
Butterfly Weed Ladybugs
Asparagus Beetle, Squash Beetle
Caraway Lacewing Bug
Carrot Ladybugs
Colorado Potato Beetle, Flea Beetle
Nepata cataria
Hover Flies, Predatory Wasps, Robber Flies, Soldier Beetle Aphid, Colorado Potato Beetle, Cucumber Beetle, Flea Beetle, Green Peach Aphids, Japanese Beetle, Squash Beetle
Chamaemelum nobile or Matricaria recutita
Hover Flies, Predatory Wasps, Robber Flies
Aphid, Japanese Beetle
Cilantro / Coriander
Coriandrum sativum
Lacewing Bug, Ladybug, Tiny wasps Aphid, Colorado Potato Beetle, Spider Mite
Clovers tiny wasps
Daisy Hover Flies, Predatory Wasps, Robber Flies Bagworms
Dandelion Lacewing Bug, Ladybug
Anethum graveolens
Lacewing Bug, Ladybug, Tiny wasps Cabbage Looper, Imported Cabbageworm, Tomato Hornworm
Foeniculum vulgare
Lacewing Bug, Ladybug, Tiny wasps, Slug, Snail Aphid
Aphid, Cabbage Looper, Cabbage Maggot, Codling Moth, Imported Cabbageworm, Japanese Beetle, Peach Borer, Rabbit, Slug, Snail
Goldenrod Soldier Beetle
Potato Bugs
Hyssopus officianalis

Cabbage Looper, Cabbage Moth, Imported Cabbageworm
Carrot Fly
Lemon Balm
Melissa Officinalis
tiny wasps
Carrot Fly
Lobelia tiny wasps
Marigold Ladybug Aphid, Bean Beetle, Cabbage Maggot, Colorado Potato Beetle, Corn Earworm, Cucumber Beetle, Nematodes, Rabbit
Mentha sp.
Ground Beetle, Hover Flies, Predatory Wasps, Robber Flies Ant, Aphid, Cabbage Looper, Cabbage Moth, Flea Beetle, Imported Cabbageworm, Squash Beetle, Whitefly
Verbascum thapsus
Nasturtium Aphid, Bean Beetle, Cabbage Looper, Colorado Potato Beetle, Cucumber Beetle, Green Peach Aphids, Imported Cabbageworm, Squash Beetle, Whitefly
Cabbage Looper, Carrot Fly, Colorado Potato Beetle, Rabbit
Cabbage Moth
Petroselinum crispum
Ladybugs, Tiny wasps Asparagus Beetle
Pennyroyal tiny wasps Cabbage Looper, Imported Cabbageworm
Prairie Sunflower Lacewing Bugs, Ladybug
Queen Anne's Lace Lacewing Bug, Ladybug, Tiny wasps
Cabbage Maggot, Cucumber Beetle, Squash Beetle, Squash Vine Borer
Rosmarinus officinalis
Ground Beetle Bean Beetle, Cabbage Moth, Carrot Fly, Mosquitoes, Slug, Snail
Rue Tiny wasps, Swallowtail butterfly caterpillars Flies, Japanese Beetle, Cucumber Beetle, Flea Beetle
Salvia officinalis

Cabbage Looper, Cabbage Maggot, Cabbage Moth, Carrot Fly, Colorado Potato Beetle, Imported Cabbageworm
Cabbage Looper, Cabbage Moth, Flea Beetle, Fruit Tree Moths, Imported Cabbageworm
Sweet Alyssum Lacewing Bug, Ladybug, Tiny wasps
Tansy Ground Beetle, Lacewing Bug, Ladybug Ants, Cabbage Moth, Colorado Potato Beetle, Flea Beetle, Imported Cabbageworm, Japanese Beetle, Squash Beetle
Asparagus Beetle
Thymus vulgaris
tiny wasps Cabbage Looper, Cabbage Moth, Imported Cabbageworm, Whitefly
Achillea millefolium
Lacewing Bugs, Ladybugs, Tiny wasps

*Sources - besides various internet sources, I used:

Rodale's Encyclopedia of Herbs

Other Resources

Do you have comments or questions? Please email me.

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