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Insects and butterflies benefit the garden

Pollinators are essential for our food supply and the plant diversity we find in nature across our nation is up against some severe threats.

There are hundreds of species of native bees that pollinate so many of our food crops, as well as the iconic monarch butterfly.

The average backyard is home to thousands of insects. Only about a tenth of them are destructive; most of them are either beneficial or harmless. Yet the chemical industry promotes deadly bug killers, the use of which is changing the global landscape.

We depend on pollinators to pollinate our fruits and vegetables and make our gardens more sustainable. Predators eliminate the harmful pests by eating them. Parasites lay their eggs in the bad bugs to devour them.

You may have seen these good bugs in your garden but were not formally introduced, so here are a few you might want to observe:

Ladybugs have different stages as they grow and mature. But the most common one we can see in our gardens is the red-colored ladybug with black dots on its outer shell. Each ladybug in its life span can eat up to 5,000 aphids; that’s quite an appetite for this little creature.

At Easter time, I always give my grandkids a small container of ladybugs when we have an egg-hunt out in the garden and watch their amazement as these harmless bugs crawl up and out and walk around their hands and arms before they take flight. That is a good, safe nature’s lesson for all to behold.

Green lacewings are bugs that feed on pollen and nectar, but their larvae, which look like little alligators, suck the juice from many soft-body insects, including certain species of caterpillars.

Praying mantis are amazing looking bugs. Once I had one land on my shovel; I sat down for the longest time, just admiring him with his unusual shape, revolving large head and big eyes that would rotate to look around. They are fierce predators of moths, beetles and flies.

Wolf spiders, although technically not an insect, can be excellent hunters and useful pest controllers.

Ground beetles are predators as adults and their diet can include nematodes, caterpillars, thrips, weevils, slugs and silverfish.

Soldier beetles are a significant predator of Mexican bean beetles and Colorado potato beetles. They are attracted to plants with compound blossoms like Queen Anne’s lace, a delicate summer white flower.

Hoverflies look like yellow-jackets but don’t sting. They feed on pollen and nectar and are essential pollinators out in the garden.

Parasitic wasps are very tiny, so you might not see them but they are very useful out in an organic garden.

Braconid wasps lay their eggs on the backs of tomato hornworms, forming white cocoons. The wasp will lay its eggs into these worms and eat from the inside out, destroying these detrimental tomato bugs.

Trichogramma wasps lay their eggs in over 200 different insect pests, preventing them from hatching. They look like a housefly, but are an active enemy of corn borers, gypsy moths, grasshoppers, Japanese beetles, squash bugs and many others.

The wonders of the butterfly world are fantastic, and they are excellent pollinators to a vast array of flowers in nature and are very beautiful.

Like all living creatures, beneficial insects have a basic need for water, food and shelter, just like you and me. Planting attractive pollinator plants in the landscape will help bring these warriors out to help bring a balance to the earth. By providing all these things, your garden will be an inviting habitat for them.

A diversity of plants will attract a wide range of insects. Many beneficial bugs appear long before the pest arrives and need some alternative food sources like pollen and nectar if they are to stick around before the vast bug buffet is presented in the garden.

Early blooming plants, especially ones with tiny blossoms, like alyssum, or biennials such as carrot or parsley that have been left to bloom, which will draw beneficial bugs to your yard in the spring.

Later these beneficial insects will be attracted to plants like yarrow, goldenrod, Queen Anne’s lace and flowering herbs of lavender, mint, sage, dill, fennel, and lemon balm to mention a few.

An excellent resource to obtain these beneficial bugs and many more good things for the garden is http://www.arbico.organics.com.

Remember that if you resort to using chemical pesticides to control insects, you can destroy the good, the bad and the ugly.

All living earthly species are interconnected, so it’s a balance to consider when out in nature, for we have not done an outstanding job of caring for our little blue planet. Let us all recommit and help heal the earth by becoming better stewards in the Green Revolution movement.

I hope that this global lockdown has brought folks out into the garden and to take a little closer look at what’s all around us. Maybe a hike out in nature or sitting on a bench in a park to reflect where we are, where we are going, and what needs to happen to move forward as life revolves to new days ahead.

I am asking one and all to stop, look and listen to the nature that surrounds us for its glory and magical rhythms are talking to us daily.

“Every day, you may make progress; every step may be fruitful. Yet there will stretch out before you an ever-lengthening, ever-ascending, ever-improving path. You know you will never get to the end of the journey. But this, so far from discouraging, only adds to the joy and glory of the climb.” – Sir Winston Churchill

Roger Boddaert is a landscape designer and can help you in designing creative surroundings about your home; he can be reached at 760-728-4297.

 

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