Bugs: the good, the bad and the ugly

A look at the beneficial – and not so beneficial – insects in your garden

Aphids are considered bad bugs. They multiply in the garden and are visible on the tips of rose bushes and highly fertilized annuals. The first line of defence against aphids is water. Hose off plants or clip off and throw away aphidcovered growing tips. Another option is to let the good bugs get rid of the bad bugs for you.

The best-loved and well-known good bug in the garden is the lady beetle; it is well recognized and revered. The trouble with lady beetles is they never clean their plates. They always leave a few aphids on the plant to feed their young. Also, most retailers of ladybugs get them from wild-collected sources, so even though I love these bright red beetles, I do not buy them. I keep my plants healthy and wait for the native lady beetles to come to me.

A lesser-known-but-amazing aphid eater is aphidoletes or midge larva. You may have them without even knowing it. The adults are small native flies called midges. If you don’t spray your plants with chemicals, you may already have them. Their orange eggs, laid among aphids, hatch into small reddish larva.

They pierce into and paralyze aphids, flicking them off the plant when they have eaten them. And in really good news? They never stop eating. They don’t care if their brothers or neighbours starve, they simply keep eating and eating. If you buy a magnifying glass, you can see them on the underside of leaves eating aphids in your yard.

Green lacewings are another type of beneficial bug with a really hungry larval stage. The first sign of lacewings are tiny silk threads with white eggs on the end of each thread.

These native bugs eat bad bugs including mealybugs, thrips, mites, whiteflies, aphids, small caterpillars, leafhoppers and insect eggs. They are a really useful kind of insect — hungry, omnivorous and beneficial. The list of good beneficial bugs is long and the presence of them in the garden is common if you know what you are looking for.

Gardeners who want to make sure they attract the good guys should offer snacks and water to draw them into your yard. Do this by introducing a small water feature and planting anything that blooms a lot like herbs cilantro and dill, or my favourite annual flower alyssum. Flowers feed the good bugs pollen while they wait to find their dinner.

There is a purpose to everything and to everything there is purpose. Let the bugs duke it out this summer by keeping your plants healthy and watered and letting the better bugs do the work for us.

Donna Balzer is a garden writer and speaker. Check out her blog at gardenguru.net or follow on Twitter @NoGuffGardener 

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