“Good bugs” can be a homeowner’s best friend, while “bad bugs” can wipe out weeks of gardening in just a few days. By definition, it’s easy to know the difference: Bad bugs feed on plants, sometimes causing severe damage. The notorious bad-bug gang of four consists of: aphids, whitefly, scale and mealybugs.
Good bugs, on the other hand, have a different food preference. They feed on bad bugs. Good bugs end a lavish meal of harmful bugs with the nectar of flowering plants for dessert.
Three Good Bugs to Buy
Ladybugs are beloved and well-known beneficial insects, but there are others. Praying mantises will eat aphids, whitefly and others. The fragile-looking green lacewings feed on aphids, mites and other small insects and insect eggs. Hoverflies look like little bees, hovering and darting in the garden. They feed on aphids, mealybugs and others. Tiny parasitic mini-wasps that don’t sting lay eggs in the bodies of insect pests. After hatching, they feed on the host pest.
Ladybugs harvested from colonies in California’s foothills can be purchased spring through summer at most garden centers. They will stay in your garden as long as there is something to eat. If they leave, that’s OK. It means your garden is clean and they are on to your neighbor’s yard.
Praying mantis egg cases can also be purchased, but only during spring. Place them in the garden, where the mantises will hatch by summertime. It is always a bit startling to meet up with a full-grown mantis later in the summer. It is clear they have eaten more than a few bad bugs.
Green lacewings must be special-ordered at your neighborhood nursery and will be delivered directly to you. Since they don’t store well, you will want to release them immediately to do their work.
Two Good Bugs to Attract
The others, hoverflies and parasitic wasps, are not purchased; they must be invited in to your garden. Since beneficial insects also feed on nectar and pollen from flowering plants, all good bugs (including ladybugs, praying mantises and green lacewings) can be enticed and encouraged to come into your garden. You just have to plant their favorite flowers.
Other Benefits of Good Bugs
Of course, nectar-sipping, pest-eating good bugs also help pollinate your fruit and vegetable crops and increase yields. These beneficials will also allow you to garden as safely as possible. There’s no need to worry about harming pets or children with chemical sprays. You are also encouraging biodiversity in your garden by gardening organically.
Plants that Attract Good Bugs
Here are seven top plants to attract beneficial insects to gardens: Bachelor buttons, or cornflowers, make beautiful cut flowers and are easily grown from seed or six-packs. Fragrant and beautiful, sweet alyssum is a popular flower bed edging plant and grows year-round here.
Borage has beautiful, edible, blue flowers and grows easily from seed. It also re-seeds very easily. Looking a bit like lavender, Agastache is a great hot-weather, low-water plant. Fennel looks sensational in mixed flower borders and can be grown from seed or small plants. When in bloom, ornamental grasses attract beneficial insects, and there are lots of choices. Growing corn from seeds or plants has the obvious benefit of homegrown flavor but will also attract bug-eating insects to your garden.
There are other good bug attractors: dill, Scabiosa, sunflower, catmint, coneflower, yarrow, lavender, Queen Anne’s lace, California lilac, cosmos, Pyracantha, milkweed and penstemon are all good ones.
Additional Tips for Good Bugs
Remember, to protect your good bugs, you don’t want to use synthetic pesticides, and only use organic ones judiciously and carefully. It will also help if your entire garden is organic, including fertilizers and amendments.