Beneficial Insects in the Garden

Getting to Know Your (Six-Legged) Neighbors

soaker hoseOf all the different insects you find in your yard, what percentage to you think are actively harmful to your plants: 30%? 50%? 90%?

The actual answer might surprise you. According to the National Pesticide Information Center at OSU, “out of nearly 1 million known insect species, only about 1%-3% are ever considered pests.” That means that between 97%-99% of the insects you encounter every day are either harmless, or are actually beneficial to your plants.

So who are all these beneficial insects? Beneficial insects fall into four basic groups: predators (ladybugs, mantises, green lacewings), pollinators (bees, wasps, butterflies), parasites of garden pests (tiny braconid wasps, tachinid flies), and decomposers (pillbugs, mites, millipedes).

Bee and pollenSummer is the perfect time of year to get to know some of these six-legged garden allies, and learn how to attract them to your garden. There are some great books out there that can help you get started. You can find links to a few of our favorites here, here, and here. Even better, bring one of these books out into your garden with you, and spend some time just watching all the different insects (and other creatures) who you are sharing your garden with!

AphidLadybugEven if you do see an insect that qualifies as a “pest”, there’s still no need to panic. Start by noticing what that insect is actually doing. Does it seen to be causing a problem? If you observe the insect eating one of your plants, is the damage minor (a few holes in the leaves) or is there a serious problem? Do you have any garden allies in the vicinity? One single ladybug can eat 50 or more aphids a day, and most songbirds feed their young an exclusive diet of insects!

In this time of social distancing, why not spend some time getting better acquainted with your non-human neighbors? Chances are, you’ll develop a rich appreciation for the thriving and diverse little ecosystem you are creating in your yard – and you’ll become a better (and happier) gardener in the process!