Do you want to know the secret to growing a garden organically and naturally? Beneficial insects.
Without pollinators, there are no tomatoes. Some adult forms of predator and parasitoid insects are also pollinators.
2. Predators (like ladybugs and praying mantis) eat other insects like those darn pests trying to devour your vegetable garden.
3. Parasitoids (like braconid wasps) lay eggs in the pest insect’s body so that the larvae devour the pest for sustenance.
Sounds great, right? Before you start planting companions, though, you need to ditch the pesticides.
The same pesticide that kills pest caterpillars will also kill the larvae for important pollinators like monarch butterflies. If you attract a balance of beneficial insects to your garden, they’ll take care of pests for you before they get out of control.
Bees, whether wild bees or honeybees are our most important pollinators, as they pollinate ⅓ of the food we eat.
Yet, because of pollution and climate change, they are struggling to survive. Help them out by creating a wild bee sanctuary.
Monarch butterflies are the most iconic of the butterfly pollinators with their flashy orange and black wings.
While most monarch butterflies only live a few weeks as adults, those born in the late summer and fall live eight or nine months to migrate across North America.
If you only plant one thing to help monarch butterflies, plant milkweed. Monarchs lay their eggs on milkweed plants’ underside, which become the emerging larvae’s sole food source.
Monarch butterflies aren’t the only butterfly pollinators you’ll want to attract. Each butterfly species pollinates different flowers, and they’re all critical to your garden and the surrounding environment.
Plant a variety of flowers that blossom during different parts of the year to support them, from eggs to larvae to butterflies.
You can order ladybugs online or plant flowers and herbs like calendula to attract them to your garden.
You can easily identify lacewings by the large lacey wings, and of course, mostly being green. Their eggs are tiny green oblong shapes at the end of a tall strand.
And like ladybugs, while they look pretty, they are ferocious predators, feeding upon aphids, small cabbage worms, caterpillars, caterpillar eggs, mealybugs, whiteflies, and more. Larvae will even eat each other if they get in the way.
While less attractive than ladybugs and lacewings, damsel bugs can cut quite a dent in pest populations.
They eat aphids, moth eggs, leafhoppers, tiny sawfly larvae, mites, asparagus beetles, Colorado beetle eggs and nymphs, corn earworm caterpillars, European corn borer, cabbage worms, and some armyworms.
Aphid midges, as the name suggests, prey on over 60 species of aphids. They’re tiny flies, and their larvae are bright orange.
They lay between 100 and 250 orange eggs among aphid colonies. When the eggs hatch, the larvae feast on the aphids.
They may look intimidating, but praying mantises are well-worth attracting. They will eat any insects, including mosquitoes and wasps. Less fortunately, that includes other beneficial insects.
In the late summer, they may even eat rodents, frogs, and hummingbirds. Females lay eggs in “cases” that harden to help the eggs survive harsh winters. You can order these cases online.
If you’ve been waiting for an excuse to add a pond or water feature to your backyard, wait no more! Dragonflies consume 10 to 15% of their own body weight every day, gobbling up mosquitoes, deer flies, blackflies, horseflies, midges — basically, everything that will try to bite you.
And, since they spend 95% of their lifetime underwater, only emerging into the air to eat and breed, if you want to attract dragonflies, you’re going to need a backyard water feature.
Ok, you got me, spiders aren’t technically insects.
But since spiders eat more insects than anything else (even birds, bats, and ants), perhaps you can forgive me this once. They’re well worth protecting in the garden, provided they’re not poisonous.
While many beetle species are ready to snack on your plants, the ground beetle is ready to snack on them.
They’ll eat anything that moves, including asparagus beetles, Colorado potato beetles, corn earworms, cutworms, slugs, and cabbage worms.
Minute Pirate Bugs are a mixed bag. These tiny insects eat a ton of small insects (including aphids, thrips, and whiteflies), mites, and insect eggs.
But in late summer, when these insects are preparing to hibernate, they fly around, coming into contact with us.
And just to confirm that we’re not food, they take a quick, painful bite. Your best defense is wearing dark colors or working in the garden during cool, cloudy days.
Soldier Beetles look like daytime, non-glowing fireflies.
You’re most likely to find these beetles hanging out on flowers, and they feed on any kind of soft-bodied insects, including aphids, tiny caterpillars, and grasshopper eggs.
Hover Flies may look like bees and wasps, but as the name suggests, they’re There areotherManyies.
They lay their eggs near aphid colonies and other slow-moving insects. The larvae will eat up to 400 aphids each!
The first beneficial insect commercially available to greenhouses was the predatory mite. When pest populations disappear, predatory mites eat pollen or nectar — meaning that they’re ready to take on any new pest threats.
There’s many different species of predatory mites that are either generalists (they’ll eat a bunch of different pests) or specialists (they eat one kind of pest).
You might already be familiar with the nematodes that attack the roots of your tomato plants, but don’t discount them all.
Beneficial nematodes are nematode species that eat insects in their larval phase under the soil. You can order nematodes online.
The most obvious way to identify an assassin bug is by their rostrum, a curved dagger-like mouthpart they use to spear insects and inject venom to kill them. But they can look like Coreidae bugs, which are not your friends.
Assassin bugs will bite you in self-defense, and while some bites just swell up painfully, other bites may transmit Chagas, an inflammatory and infectious disease. If one is on you, flick it away rather than smash to avoid the bite.
Robber flies are generalist hunters, so they will eat just about insects, whether beneficial or pest, although some species primarily eat grasshoppers.
They get their name from the way they ferociously pounce from the air onto their prey.
If you’re terrified of wasps like I am, don’t fret — these tiny wasps are non-stinging. Unless you see their eggs sticking out of caterpillars, aphids, flies, leaf miners, and beetle larvae, you probably won’t even know they’re there.
The larvae hatch and consume their host. Adults are pollinators, so you can attract them with flowers or buy eggs online.
Like braconid wasps (they belong to the same superfamily), ichneumon wasps are parasitic wasps that don’t sting humans.
They kind of look like wasps but are much slimmer with long antennae.
And finally, the tiniest of wasps — Trichogramma. Trichogramma wasps are about the size of a speck of dust (the above photo is of a Trichogramma wasp laying eggs in an armyworm egg), so you definitely won’t see them around the garden.
These wasps lay their eggs inside other insect eggs, like cabbage worms, codling moths, diamondback moths, and other moths and butterflies.
Like the other wasps, you can attract them with your favorite flowers or buy them online.
Tachinid Flies look like just household fly, but they use various parasitic tactics, with the most common being to glue their eggs to other insects so that they can start consuming as soon as the larvae hatch the insect.
The egg hatching can happen almost immediately after the egg is laid — or even before. Adult tachinid flies are pollinators.
Earthworms are technically not insects, although, like insects, they’re invertebrates. They are still super helpful to have in your garden soil.
As earthworms tunnel, they loosen and aerate the soil, making it easier for plants to spread their roots and for water to drain away.
As they eat, worms create nutrient-rich castings that plants can devour. Some worms even devour harmful nematodes.
Did you enjoy this list? Having a healthy population of beneficial insects means that you don’t need pesticides. And by encouraging pollinators with beautiful flowers, you’re ensuring that we’ll all have food in the future.
What do you think? Are there any insects you’d add? Let us know in the comments!