beneficial insects, beneficial bugs, ladybugs, ladybirds, lacewings, braconid wasps

Beneficial Insects and How to Attract Them to Your Garden

By Catherine Winter

If you’ve already started seeds for this year’s garden, you likely have several different vegetable and herb seeds sprouting merrily. What a lot of people forget to do, however, is include a variety of flowers and herbs that will help attract beneficial insects as well.
There are a number of plant species that can draw specific insects to your space, so if you’ve had particular issues that you’d like to address without the use of harmful insecticides, read on!

Organic Pest Control

Braconid

Braconid Wasps

These creep me right the hell out so I’m going to write about them first to get them out of the way. Members of the Braconidae family, these parasitic wasps lay their eggs into the skin of caterpillars and beetle larvae. Once the eggs hatch, the wasp larvae feed on the host’s internal organs until they reach maturity, at which point they bugger off.
Ew ew ew, but hey, they’ll kill the cabbage moth larvae eating your organic kale.

Which plants do they like?
These wasps love small-flowered flowers and herbs that produce a fair amount of nectar. Yarrow, coriander, dill, fennel, lemon balm, thyme, parsley, Queen Anne’s lace, and sweet alyssum are sure to coax them to your garden.

Lacewings

Lacewings

You’ve probably seen these delicate beauties clinging to your porch or window screen if a porch light has drawn them close. Their larvae look like alligators and are sometimes referred to as “aphid lions” because of how voraciously they devour the wee beasties. They also eat caterpillars, thrips, and whiteflies.

Which plants do they like?
Yarrow, caraway, angelica, cosmos, fennel, coreopsis, mallows, dill, tansy, sunflowers, and dandelions.

Ladybug.png

Ladybugs (aka Ladybirds)

Adorable and colourful, these happy-looking little beetles annihilate aphids, spider mites, and various other teensy soft-bodied critters. If you haven’t seen many in your area, you can usually buy them at your local garden centre.

Which plants do they like?
Butterfly weed, coriander, yarrow, dill, tansy, cinquefoil, fennel, vetch, buckwheat, calendula.

Insect-Water-Feeder.png

A Good Water Source

Remember that insects need water to wash down all those bad bugs they’ve been eating, so make sure they have a source of clean drinking water handy. If you have a pond or marshy area on your property, they should be okay, but for everyone else, it’s recommended that you make a couple of watering areas.

The easiest way is to pour a layer of pebbles, marbles, or decorative stones in the bottom of a ceramic planter pot, and keep enough water in it to **almost** cover the pebbles. This will give the insects safe places to land while they drink.
Remember, most of these happy bugs have wings, and if they don’t have an easy water source when they’re thirsty, they’ll fly elsewhere.

Please don’t use commercial pesticides!

If you need to use some kind of pesticide, please use methods that are low impact, natural, and/or biodegradable, rather than full of toxic chemicals. You can get repel slugs from the garden with copper strips, use neem for various mites, ants, and beetles, etc. There are many different options that won’t harm the beneficial bugs in your garden, nor seep into the soil to poison plant life.

deer, garden deer, deer in the garden, forest deer, white-tailed deer, deer garden, Quebec deer

Snow White is Vexed

By Catherine Winter

I love nature. I do. I wouldn’t live in the forest if I didn’t, and I am immensely grateful for the rapport I have developed with various animal friends over the years. All I need to do is step out onto my porch and call out “babies!!” and chickadees will swoop down from the aspens to eat from my hands, and both squirrels and chipmunks will pop out of nowhere to twine around my ankles for seeds and cuddles. They know that my home is a place of safety: they find food here, and are protected from predators, as has been demonstrated when I’ve chased off feral cats and shrieked at kestrels to get away from my bird friends.

red squirrel, squirrel, Quebec squirrel, squirrel in the garden, squirrels
“Oh hai! Thanks for growing all that salad for me!”

The downside to having one’s home known as an Inn of Solace is that the little buggers also feel that my garden is their personal buffet. They devour my plants with impunity, secure in the knowledge that although I might yell a bit and chase them off, they’re not in any real danger. I mentioned the marmot that I found in my potager garden, stuffing sorrel into her face… well, little red squirrels have eaten almost all of my squash plants, deer have mowed my lettuces to the quick, and slugs have had a field day on my beans.

Related Post: When Goals Meet Opposition 

rabbit, wild rabbit, rabbit in the garden, rabbits, bunny, bunnies

An Ounce of Prevention

Since I have neither the space, nor the bank account, to cover my land in greenhouses, the best I can do is take some preventative measures to keep my plants from being totally obliterated:

  • To keep squirrels and other rodents out of my medicinal herb bed, I’ve constructed a mesh mini-fence around its perimeter. It’s only 2 feet high, but it has bird-proof mesh draped over it as well, so I’m hoping that helps to keep critters out.
  • The slugs are being battled with a 50/50 mixture of cayenne pepper and sea salt, which I have sprinkled in liberal lines around my bean bed.
  • I’ve sprayed several leafy greens with a diluted castile soap solution, which may render them less palatable to my hooved friends. We shall see.

garden fence, chicken wire, chicken wire fence, chicken wire garden fence, garden fencing

Creating a chicken wire fence or cover is often enough to keep most critters out of your garden beds, and a perimeter of cayenne pepper or chili powder can help as well. Planting calendula or alliums (like onions, leeks, garlic, or chives) around your garden will repel deer and rabbits, and if you’re feeling really innovative, you can go to your local wildlife centre and ask them for some wolf or coyote poop: scattering some of that around will make herbivores think that there are large predators around, and they’ll keep their distance.

…that last one is hypothetical. There are plenty of coyotes and foxes around here, and I still find marmots eating my lettuce. If you go this route, do let us know whether you’ve had any success.

What are your tried-and-true methods for natural animal control?