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Friend or Foe: Which Insects benefit your Garden

There are millions of species of insects in the world. Identifying which species are friendly over foe for your garden and plants can be tricky. Friendly insects, also known as beneficial insects, feed on particularly harmful insects and plant diseases and in turn help support the health, pollination and/or pest control of your plants. To help your understanding of what insects benefit your garden check out our list below.

FRIENDS:

A bee sucking on a yellow flower.

 

Bees

This is an animal that everyone should want in their gardens. Bees are the ultimate pollinators that help plants such as tomatoes, raspberries, blueberries, cranberries, and peppers along with flowers to flourish and thrive. Without bees, much of our everyday fresh produce and plants would diminish or not exist.

Spiders

No one enjoys walking into a pesky spider web, however, spiders in your garden are very beneficial for preventing pest infestations and plant diseases. These fascinating and misunderstood garden friends eat your top two garden pests; mosquitoes and aphids along with caterpillars, grasshoppers, beetles, flies, wasps, moths, leafhoppers, leaf miners, and spider mites.

Green lacewings

These bugs are beautiful. Their wings genuinely look as though they have a lace design on them. As gorgeous as their wings are, they serve a mighty purpose for your garden. Lacewings will eat aphids, whiteflies, leafhoppers and mealybugs.
Also, they are simple to draw to your gardening space too. Simply plant dill, angelica, or coriander to catch their attention and welcome them to your garden.

 

Praying Mantis has a bulbous head and long needles serrated legs.

Praying Mantis

Pray mantis are great active predators for your garden and absolutely love to eat bugs including caterpillars, moths, beetles, and crickets. However,  their love of bugs also means they can eat some of the good critters we want in our gardens such as lacewings, ladybugs and butterflies. Iconic for its beautiful praying stance and lime green colouring, the praying mantis is a beneficial insect for your gardens.

Ground Beetles

Diversity is something that, in some respects, we seemed to have lost over time in the garden. The ground beetle seems to have not noticed this as there are over twenty-five hundred different species. The ground beetles are nocturnal and get all the bugs that are on the ground (go figure). Some of the bad bugs they will help you get rid of include slugs, snails, cutworms, cabbage maggots, and caterpillars. And boy can they eat! One beetle larvae can kill up to fifty caterpillars.

Minute Pirate Bugs

I don’t know if it’s a meal or if they are just territorial but the minute pirate bug is not picky about which bug it eats. This one I would add if you seem to have only bad bugs in your garden. They especially like aphids, spider mites, and thrips. These critters are used in greenhouses quite a bit to combat thrips infestations.

It is important to note though that if you have already added or have good bugs, I might skip out because the Minute Pirate Bug might be too worried about the good bugs to get rid of the bad bugs.

A Lady Bug has shiny black body with a domed red and black dotted shell.

Ladybugs

Ladybugs are probably the most well-known of all the beneficial bugs in the garden. Part of the reason they are beneficial is that they eat quite a few of the bad bugs. Each ladybug can eat fifty to sixty aphids per day and over five thousand in a lifetime. In addition, they also like to munch on mealy worms, leafhoppers, and mites. If you have the perfect elements in your garden to attract Ladybugs, you can have many generations in one season. Don't fret about them being eaten by predators, not only do their iconic red, orange and sometimes yellow spotted jackets deter them but they also secrete an odour that most other bugs do not like.

Hover Flies

Hoverflies are a great variety to have hovering around your gardens. They will prey on aphids, scale insects and caterpillars. This variety of fly is only drawn to a few items, though. You’ll need to grow common yarrow, fern-leaf yarrow, dill, or basket of gold to attract this type of fly to your garden.

Centipedes

Centipedes can help you control certain pests in your garden. They help aerate and loosen compacted soil, allowing your plants to grow more easily. They also eat harmful insects, such as aphids and grubs, that can damage your plants. While centipedes are generally harmless to people and pets, they can bite if they feel threatened. If you have centipedes in your garden, there’s no need to worry – they can actually be helpful allies in keeping your plants healthy and strong.

Ant on a leaf.

Ants

Most ants nest in the ground, digging a labyrinth of tunnels that aerate the soil and allow moisture to get to the roots of plants. They also till the soil by bringing pebbles and particles to the top providing a perfect soil environment for your plants to thrive. Ants act as decomposers, feeding on organic waste, insects, or other dead animals. The leaves and insects brought into the nest as ant food decay act as a natural fertiliser for surrounding plants.

FOE:

Tomato Horn Worms

Tomato hornworms are often found in areas where there are vegetables from the nightshade family (tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, etc.) growing. Most likely, you'll notice the damage before you notice the hornworms because of their camouflage light green bodies along with rows of white and black spots and V-shaped stripes helping them blend in so well with the plant foliage. Fortunately, once you identify these pests, they're fairly easy to eradicate by regular tilling of the soil and crop rotation as it destroys the pupae in the soil or prevents the emerging moths from having convenient plants on which to lay eggs.

Mealy Bugs

Mealybugs can be a major hassle to many plants as they can come indoors and attack plants being kept on the windowsill. They are tiny sap-suckers that are found worldwide. Additionally, these bad garden bugs look a bit like sticky cornmeal when viewed up close. 

Cabbage Worm Moth eating a purple flower.

Cabbage Worms/ Moths

Cabbage worms feature a distinguishable velvety green body with few faint yellow stripes, whilst the adult moths, sometimes called cabbage whites or small whites, feature one or two black spots per wing. Keep an eye on your cabbage, kale, cauliflower and broccoli as they are common pests for these cabbage vegetable family plants.

Do not be overly concerned if you see a hole in a leaf; plants can withstand much leaf loss without consequence. It is during seedling establishment or early head formation that plants will incur true damage to their growth and yield.

Cutworms

Among other pests that destroy plants, cutworms are most active at night and are found mostly on seedlings and new transplants. These fat, black or grey bad garden worms mostly chew through stems at ground level and make their way up until the plant is completely devoured. About 3 cm long and appear generally during cooler seasons.

Flea Beetles

Flea beetles are some extremely tiny, but resilient and persistent pests. They look and act like fleas when disturbed, jumping high into the air and vanishing just as quickly. Flea beetles can also spread disease among your plants. Once spotted, it's strongly recommended to eradicate them as swiftly as possible. These leaf-eating insects will go after vegetables like potatoes, cabbage, tomatoes, corn and peppers.

A brown and white spiral shelled snail eating a green leaf.

Slugs and Snails

Slugs and snails are not insects but are extremely common garden pests. They are most active in gardens that are damp and/or shady. You can spot them in well-mulched areas or under rocks. They are most active during the night and chew large holes into plants while feeding and typically eat rotting vegetation, as well as plants like hostas, cabbage, lettuce and basil. Keep an eye out for their distinctive silver trails as to where you can find them hiding and where they have been in your garden.

Aphids

Often referred to as green flies or green bugs that fly, these vegetable garden pests appear in different colours. Black, red, white, brown, yellow, green, grey or even pink! They are most certainly aren't picky and like to hang out in large packs. Worse still, you can find them pretty much everywhere, so no garden is truly safe from their wrath. The thing they crave the most is sap. These destructive crop insects will suck plants dry in days, causing the leaves to wilt and may also stunt plant growth. They can be dealt with, however, so the very second you see them, start looking into some effective ways to get rid of them without harming good bugs.

White Flies 

Commonly found in mass groups on the undersides of leaves, whiteflies are similar to Aphids, in which they suck the sap from plants in gardens. The damage caused can be tremendous as they cause leaves to shrivel and turn yellow, eventually making the leaves fall off. Whiteflies also secrete honeydew which turns into black sooty mould. Infestation can be found on many varieties of plants.

A white Caterpillar that has black splotches and yellow spots on its back.

Parsley Worms

Striking caterpillars, parsley worms turn into even more striking black swallowtail butterflies. They are easily identifiable as green worms with a brilliant, yellow-dotted black band across each body segment. When the caterpillar is disturbed, it protrudes a pair of fleshy “horns,” the better to scare predators away. As its name suggests you can find them munching on parsley, dill, or an occasional carrot. 


Mexican Bean Beetles

Imposter Alert! These little guys look a lot like friendly ladybugs but don't be fooled- they are clever copycats. Mexican bean beetles have a wide diet consisting of lima beans, snap beans, soybeans, alfalfa, cowpea, and other plants. These annoying little critters like to chew on the underside of leaves, creating a skeletonized appearance resulting in the leaves curling and falling off.

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