Need some help controlling the pests on your plants? Why not enlist some of the beneficial insects, mites and spiders you have right in your own back yard?! What will beneficials do for you? They’ll feed on pest insects and mites, controlling these problems so you don’t have to spray.

Beneficial wasps

These aphids have been killed by beneficial wasps.

Photo Credit: ©2006 Buglady Consulting

Hoverfly

An adult hover fly feeds on a pot marigold bloom.

Photo Credit: ©2006 Buglady Consulting

Green lacewing larva

Green lacewing larva are excellent predators. Here you can see one feeding on some pest aphids.

Photo Credit: ©2004 Buglady Consulting

First, you have to know who the good guys are.

Oh, ladybugs – they get all the credit. Yes, they’re beneficial to have around, but they’re just one of the many insects that can help you out in the garden. Other beneficial insects include hover flies, lacewings, wasps, rove beetles, soldier beetles, true bugs and many, many more! And don’t forget the spiders – they do a lot of eating in their webs too!

On an even smaller scale, there are things like predatory mites and beneficial nematodes that you’ll never see working, but trust me – they’re there, invisibly working for you.

Now, to use nature to your advantage, it’s best to think like an insect: Think about what might appeal to you. To attract these good guys to your yard, you have to provide what they like – and that’s food! Who wouldn’t want a smorgasbord of delights to feed on? This doesn’t mean you need to put out plates of insects for them to feast. Many beneficials also feed on nectar and pollen as part of their diet. Adult beneficial flies, midges and parasitic wasps need flower nectar to give them the energy to lay eggs, while ladybird beetles, lacewings and minute pirate bugs supplement their diets with pollen. Once these adult beneficials find their way into your garden, they’ll tend to stay and lay eggs, proving a new generation of beneficials. So to provide beneficials with these alternate foods, you need provide the flowers.

Plants that Attract Beneficials

Plants with composite flowers, like daisies, calendula and asters, are good choices for attracting beneficials. Plants like goldenrod are also very appealing to the good guys. Many of these good insects are tiny and require a short flower structure so they can get in there to feed on the nectar.

Flowers that attract beneficial insects

Common Name Botanical Name
Asters Aster
Coneflowers Echinacea
Goldenrods Solidago
Pot marigolds Calendula officinalis
Sunflowers Helianthus
Yarrows Achillea millefolium

Herbs that attract beneficial insects

Common Name Botanical Name
Catmint Nepeta
Cilantro (coriander) Coriandrum sativum
Dill Anethum graveolens
Fennel Foeniculum vulgare
Lemon balm Melissa officinalis
Parsley Petroselinum

When you plant these alluring flowers and herbs, don’t just plant one variety in a big bed. Beneficial insects like biodiversity. This means they like several different kinds of plants, planted together, just as you would find in a natural landscape. They like different heights, textures and colors, too.

When done well, these planting arrangements also make for a more interesting look in the garden. One way you can achieve this is by intercropping (planting a different plant among the main plant). For example, using dill and cilantro between your tomato plants works great in the vegetable garden. These herbs will attract beneficials who will then also inspect your nearby tomatoes for pests – basically working as “bouncers” on your plants, eating the unwanted pests.

Another way to promote beneficials in your yard is to reduce pesticide use. Most pesticides aren’t very selective; that is to say, if it kills the bad bugs, it’ll kill the good ones, too. Some pesticides on the market today are very persistent. This means when you spray a pesticide, it’ll remain on the plant for weeks (or even months) and not necessarily kill the bad guys. In fact, they can end up doing more overall harm to the good guys.

If you absolutely must use a pesticide, use a product like horticultural soap or oil. These products don’t persist for long. Or use a low-impact selective spray like Bacillus thuringiensis (also known as Bt). It only kills caterpillars and won’t harm your beneficials.

Another option is to use a high-pressure spray of water to knock the pests off. (This works well for aphids.) If you do have to use a conventional pesticide, only mix as much as you need for immediate use, and only treat the target area. Always read and follow the directions on the pesticide label!

Inviting the good guys to your garden can be easy. By planting the right plants and providing a hospitable environment, they’ll move in. Not only will you have fewer pest issues – and a healthier home – you’ll end up with beautiful flowers to enjoy during your growing season!