You know, in a good way!
They’re called beneficial bugs, after all, because they’re a boon to your garden and the planet. Beneficial bugs fall into one or more of three categories
- pollinators: these bugaboos are an essential component in the reproduction of about 80% of flowering plant species (150 food crops in the US, including most grains and fruits, rely on pollination!)
- predators: some insects eliminate pests by eating them
- parasitoids: these bugs lay their eggs in or on pests, which the larvae eventually eat
Predators and parasitoids keep populations of aphids, leafhoppers, mites, thrips, and more potentially damaging pests in your garden under control.
Pollinators are essential
You probably know that pollinators are responsible for the reproduction of most flowering plants (about $10 billion worth of food annually). But there are additional benefits to having these bugs around too.
- clean air: pollinators are an essential part of the reproduction of flowering plants. These plants, which breath in carbon dioxide, are a vital part of Earth’s carbon cycle, drawing carbon out of the atmosphere and into our soils.
- clean water: pollinators are similarly involved in Earth’s water cycle and in preventing erosion of Earth’s soils by maintaining plant populations.
- ethnobotany: the role of pollinators in our lives is culturally important to many communities, including Indigenous communities. Pollinators play a role in food plants, medicinal plants, plant-based dyes, and in cultural symbolism.
Bees, butterflies, flies, and moths are the pollinators you want to bring to your yard.
Bring on the bugs!
There are a few steps you can take to make your yard attractive and safe for beneficial bugs.
1. Create habitat
These Beneficial Bug Houses provide insects a place to nest and rest. By placing these houses near existing insect hotspots (think hedges, nectar-rich flower beds, ponds or streams) you can give them a chance to thrive and, in return, they will maintain a healthy equilibrium in your yard. Look for these in the Green Patch and in-store.
2. Plant the right plants
There are many pollinator-friendly plants at the Co-op. Floral Specialist Jennifer has brought in three varieties of sunflowers, foxglove, and herbs including Thai basil, culinary select sage, stevia, and French thyme just last week.
Starts arriving this week (Thursday 5/5) include lavender, margarita yellow osteospermum, cosmos, asclepias red butterfly bush, marigolds, nasturtiums, zinnias, and more!
These five plant families will pack the most punch when it comes to attracting beneficial insects to your garden:
- Aster Family (Asteraceae): ageratums, asters, chrysanthemums, cosmos, dahlias, marigolds, and zinnias
- Carrot family (Apiaceae): Angelica, caraway, carrot, celery, chervil, cowbane, cumin, fennel, parsley, parsnip, Queen Anne’s lace
- Legume family (Fabaceae): green bean, lima bean, scarlet runner bean, chickpea, fenugreek, lentil, lupine, pagoda tree, smoke tree, soybean, tamarind, wisteria
- Mustard family (Brassicaceae): arugula, bok choy, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, collard, kale, kohlrabi, rutabaga, turnip, horseradish, rocket, shepherd’s purse, watercress, white mustard, wild radish
- Verbena family (Verbenaceae): Verbena (also known as vervain) family, includes 31 genera and nearly 920 species including lemon verbena, blue vervain, lollipop, meteor shower, Greystone Daphne, homestead purple, and Texas rose.
3. Provide a water source
Most beneficial bugs have wings, so they’ll take off in search of water if they can’t find any in your garden. If you use sprinklers, the puddles that form from use should be enough to keep your garden friends hydrated. If you use a drip system or water by hand, you’ll need to provide additional water. Fill up a saucer with water and some rocks. Refill on dry days (maybe twice during scorching summer days). To keep these bugaboos working in your garden, be sure to maintain their water source!
4. Creepy crawlies need love too
Some beneficial bugs keep low to the ground in search of pests that live in the soil. During hot daytime hours, these insects need protection and rest. Mulching your garden beds gives them protection while keeping the soil moist (good for beneficial bugs and plants). Stepping stones, especially with flat surfaces, are a favorite of creepy crawlies too.
Questions? Ask Jennifer!
Jennifer is our new Floral Specialist and an excellent resource for home gardeners! You can find her watering plants on the Green Patch most days or ask any Co-op employee if Jennifer is in.