Make Beneficial Insects Welcome
The April/May edition of Mother Earth News ("Enlist Beneficial Insects for Natural Pest Control" by Vicki Mattern, page 30) has an excellent article on what the home gardener can do to encourage and support a vigorous population of beneficial insects. This is important information for gardeners because it gives both suggestions and research results that demonstrate how the health of the garden (soil, plants, and insects) can be improved and managed by understanding and information about insects.
The author lists 7 ways to welcome beneficial insects.
The first is plant a nectary smorgasbord.When beneficials can't find other insects to eat, they still need a food source and flowering plants that provide nectar and pollen are just the ticket. (The insects use the sugar in nectar to provide energy as they search for prey and the protein in pollen helps support the development of eggs.)
What are the plants in this flowering smorgasbord? Plants in the daisy family...asters, cosmos and yarrow. Plants in the carrot family ...cilantro, fennel, parsley and the wild carrot (Queen Anne's Lace). Plants in the mustard family...alyssum. Plants in the mint family. Plants in the buckwheat family.
The second strategy is to provide the beneficial insects with a home of their own. Many of us advocate and practice the planting of some of the nectary flowers (listed above) amongst the other (vegetable) crops. But authorities promote providing an undisturbed (but carefully planted with desireable plants) area that will be a supporting habitat where insect predators can feed, reporduce and overwinter.
The third strategy is to use native plants to feed native insects. "By taking an annual cropping system and adding borders or strips of diverse perennial vegetation, we mimic natural systems, states Don Weber, a research entomologist with the Agricultural Research Service in Beltsville, Maryland. Reflecting on what we learned about insects from Doug Tallamy, it makes sense to plant native plants to support ouir native insects. (Check the links below for more information.)
The fourth way to encourage a habitat for native insects is to provide 'hedgerow' plants near the garden (see photo above right). The hedgerow plantings - a practice growing increasingly popular - provide, by the variety of plantings, not only a season of continuous bloom for nectar and pollen, but also a setting for overwintering of the insects. Native shrubs, perennial grasses and more (see link below on hedgerows) are useful.
The fifth imperative is to keep the soil covered - with mulch or a cover crop. Bare ground exposes a number of the "good guys" - beetles and spiders - to heat, cold, wind and rain. They need protection. Keep the soil covered (with food and shelter).
Sixth, provide water. It seems counter-intuitive, but have some shallow pot saucers filled with gravel or sand in various sites in the garden. These will catch water and hold it briefly from watering or rain. Just be certain that the insect water saucers don't host mosquitoes.
And last, - number seven - use any insecticide with knowledge, caution and restraint.
Check out the following links: