The Good, The Bad and The Bugly

The other day my friend Maya was complaining to me about the bugs on her plum tree so I pulled a branch down closer, “Look! You have ladybugs on your tree,” I smiled. I was excited to see the perfect half circle of clean leaf where — like a windshield wiper — an immature ladybug had cleaned off the aphids. That’s when Maya spotted the more common adult ladybug and I spotted some pupae. The trouble with this good bug is there are three different immature parts to educate yourself on and protect. Of those, the larvae are the real eating machines, the trouble is however; ladybug larvae are black and look like miniature scary alligators so most people think they are bad bugs.

Most people are afraid of wasps. These insects are actually fabulous meat eaters and will carry away big fat leafeating caterpillars and munch on sap-sucking aphids. When out on the patio or in the garden, avoid wearing red. Wasps see red as sugar and they look for sugar as well as meat so might start tasting your clothes, scaring the shirt right off you. Also, if you place a wasp trap outdoors, don’t hang it above your favorite chair or set it up too close to the table or you will be offering a barbeque buffet, drawing them in with the smells and sights of traps, and keeping them there with your steaks and sweet drinks.

Smaller insects, coloured like wasps with black and yellow stripes, but with a habit of helicopter hovering over plants are known as hover flies. These “good” or beneficial bugs also munch on aphids, but only in their immature larval state. They look like green caterpillars and eat enormous aphid quantities while they are growing up. The adult, or hovering stage of these “flies”, is often more noticeable. I think they look like teeny hummingbirds with their jerky, hovering flight patterns. As adults, they are looking to eat flower pollen and searching for places to lay their eggs among aphid colonies, so if you see a hover fly check the plant to see if there are aphids nearby.

We love the good bugs because they do so much hard work for us but frankly if we didn’t have the bad bugs, like aphids, we wouldn’t have the food to feed the good guys. So a garden, like so much in life, is all about balance; just enough aphids to draw in the predators and just enough predators to keep the jungle clean.

Balzer speaks and writes about gardening, Facebook’s and tweets @NoGuffGardener and blogs at www.gardenguru.net.

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