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Beneficial Insects for Your Lawn and Garden

Beneficial Insects for Your Lawn and Garden

Last week I noticed a study discussing how the widespread use of pesticides has now been directly linked to the mass honey bee deaths of recent years. While the study focused on agricultural pesticide use on crops, it’s important to realize that lawn grass qualifies as a crop and is actually the most widely grown crop in the United States. This means that now more than ever it’s up to the individual homeowner to decide the future of our food supply. With 1/3 of the world’s food dependent on the honey bee, it’s time to do our part to reduce our use of pesticides wherever possible – and not only for the honey bee. Pesticide pollution can contaminate ground water and has been linked to a wide range of human health conditions. It can also wipe out beneficial bugs and insects that help out in the lawn and garden. This week I want to talk about some of these bug buddies and what we can do to encourage their presence in our yards.

Predators

ladybug in grass by Jörg KanngießerThe first group of beneficial insects can be classified as predators. Predator insects are the hunters of the bug kingdom—stalking, killing and eating their victim’s bodies or sucking out their internal fluids. The praying mantis is great example of a predator insect and is one of the most treasured garden bugs. They have enormous appetites and will help rid your yard of aphids, caterpillars, grasshoppers, mosquitoes and other insect pests. The ladybug is another important predator insect. While it may look cute and innocent, ladybugs are efficient killers. One ladybug can eat up to 50 aphids a day. Ground beetles, assassin bugs, spiders (not really an insect) and ants are also all beneficial bugs for lawns and gardens. Ants are especially good at eliminating lawn grubs, one of the most destructive lawn pests. 

Parasitoids and Saprophytes

Another group of beneficial lawn and garden insects make their living by laying eggs inside the bodies of host insects. Known as parasitoids, these bugs include members of the wasp family. They are particularly important for pest control and keep caterpillar, aphid and other pest populations in check. Other beneficial insects, like the saprophytes, help to break down organic material in the soil into beneficial organic matter that can be used as food for plants. Springtails belong to this group and can usually be found in flowerbeds, under paving stones and other dark moist areas around the yard. 

Attracting Beneficial Insects to your Yard

ladybug in grass by Jörg KanngießerSo how do we encourage these beneficial bugs to our lawns and gardens? Most of them have something in common – a love of pollen and nectar plants. Beneficial insects use flowering plants high in nectar and pollen for habitat and food. Some of the most important flowering plants for these good bugs include the Apiaceae family (the parsley and carrot family) and the Asteraceae family (asters, sunflowers, daisies and coneflowers). But you don’t have to plant flowers from only these families. Strive for a wide variety of wildflowers. The more colors, textures, scents and variation, the more beneficial insects will be attracted to your yard.

It’s time to start thinking twice about how we use pesticides around our homes. It may be a quick-fix solution for many homeowners, but don’t forget that these chemicals usually can’t tell the difference between a “bad” bug and a “good” bug. Encourage these beneficial insects to your yard. Our own future may depend on it.

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