Beneficial Insects: Your Garden’s Most Powerful Allies

Many common insects are actually good for your garden.


Water: Many types of beneficial insects are too small to be able to drink water safely from a stream, water garden, or even a regular birdbath. To provide a safe water supply for these delicate insects, fill a shallow birdbath or large bowl with stones. Then add just enough water to create shallow stretches of water with plenty of exposed landing sites where the insects can alight and drink without drowning. You’ll need to check this bug bath daily, as the water may evaporate quickly on sunny days. 

Shelter: Leave some weeds here and there among your vegetable plants to provide alternate food sources and shelter for beneficial species. Plant a hedge or build a windbreak fence to reduce dust, because beneficial insects dehydrate easily in dusty conditions. And set up some permanent 83pathways and mulched areas around your yard and garden. These protected areas offer safe places for beneficials to hide during the daytime (for species that are active at night), during bad weather, or when you’re actively cultivating the soil. 

Attracting beneficial insects. Making your garden a haven for beneficial insects is easy and fun. It’s also one of the cheapest and most environmentally sound ways to help prevent insect pests from getting the upper hand on your food crops and ornamentals. 

To learn more about encouraging beneficial insects in your yard, visit the Web sites of organizations such as the Xerces Society.


Buying Beneficial Insects

Many garden supply and specialty companies offer beneficial insects for sale to farmers, nursery owners, and gardeners. You can buy everything from aphid midges to lady beetles and lacewings to predatory mites.

Buying and releasing beneficial insects on a large scale, such as a commercial farm field, or in a confined place, such as a greenhouse, can be a very effective pest-control tactic. However, in a typical home garden it’s rarely worthwhile. Chances are that most of the insects you release will disperse well beyond the boundaries of your yard. While that may be helpful for your neighborhood in general, it won’t produce any noticeable improvement in the specific pest problem that you hoped the good bugs would control in your garden. Overall, it’s more effective to invest money in plants that attract beneficial insects to your yard than it is to buy and release beneficial insects.

If you decide to experiment with ordering beneficial insects, make sure you identify the target pest, because most predators or parasites only attack a particular species or group of pests. Find out as much as you can by reading or talking to suppliers before buying beneficials. 

Get a good look at the beneficials before releasing them so that you’ll be able to recognize them in the garden. You don’t want to mistakenly kill them later on, thinking them to be pests. A magnifying glass is useful for seeing tiny parasitic wasps and predatory mites. Release some of the insects directly on or near the infested plants; distribute the remainder as evenly as possible throughout the rest of the surrounding area.