Sustainable is one of the words gardeners will see everywhere in the coming year. Sustainable means employing practices that allow us to continue gardening with minimal long-term cost to the natural world.
Those practices include everything from planting appropriate trees to minimizing water use.
One practice that gardeners may forget is that of planting food for beneficial insects so they will do some of our work for us as well as eliminating the need for expensive chemicals.
Entire beds placed close to fruit and vegetable gardens can be dedicated to beneficial insect food and habitat. Many beneficial-attracting plants are attractive enough to be tucked into your existing containers or herb and flower beds. Either way, try to have something in bloom for these garden helpers all the time.
Bad bugs eat our garden plants and good bugs eat or live off of the bad bugs. Beneficials include predators, parasitoids, soil builders plus the pollinators. Parasitoids draw their food from other specific insects by laying eggs near the host. When the young hatch, they eat the bad bugs.
Assassin bugs are beneficial since they eat flies, mosquitoes, bean beetles, potato beetles, and caterpillars. Commonly seen on milkweed, the orange and black milkweed assassin bug is just one of many that will visit. Others include masked hunter assassin and spined assassin bug. They also hunt insects on other vegetation including trees, weeds and bushes.
The Braconid wasp will take care of garden pests such as armyworm, cabbageworm, codling moth, gypsy moth, European corn borer, aphid, and caterpillars. They are attracted to nectar plants with tiny flowers, yarrow, cowparsnip and sunflowers.
Damsel bugs eliminate aphids, thrips, leafhopper, treehopper and caterpillars. Bring them to your garden with any member of the aster family, yarrow or boneset.
Ground beetles attack slugs and snails, as well as Colorado potato beetle, gypsy moth and cutworms. They also eat weed seeds. Tiger beetles eat a varied diet of many types of insects and bugs. They like to live where there is Amaranth, bunch grass, and a permanent shelter planting.
Harvester butterfly caterpillars and hover flies eliminate aphids. Attract them with carrot and aster plant family members including: Queen Anne's lace, dill, fennel, coreopsis, goldenrod and parsley.
Lacewings may be the most frequently purchased insect that gardeners want. They eliminate soft-body insects such as aphid, mealybug, scale, mites and thrip, as well as corn borer. Carrot and aster plant family members also encourage lacewings to make your garden their home.
Ladybug beetles are the best known of the beneficial insects. Their reputation also makes them popular for purchase by gardeners. Their prey is primarily aphids, spider mites, corn borer and mealybug. Ladybugs like to find a garden with plenty of food and move in to make a family. Add these plants to encourage them: aster, butterfly weed, native grasses, hyssop, yarrow, cowparsnip and black locust.
Minute pirate bugs attack thrips, spider mite, leafhopper, corn earworm, small caterpillars and other pests. They enjoy the carrot and aster plant family flowers, daisies, sunflowers, elderberry, potentilla, hyssop, boneset, willow and goldenrod.
Plant carrot and aster family flowers for these beneficials:
Spiders destroy many garden pests and probably the biggest challenge to gardeners is allowing them to make a home in the garden.
Spined soldier bugs clean up an infestation of armyworms, sawfly, potato and bean beetles.
Tachnid fly is helpful against cutworms, armyworms, May beetle, gypsy moth and squash bug.
Chalcid wasps kill budworms, bollworm, hornworm, corn worm, corn borer and codling moth.
Other herbs and wildflowers that attract good bugs include: Alfalfa, clover, fennel, lemon balm, lovage, marigold, mustard, mint, thyme, sage, and vetch. Plant a variety of them to reduce your work in the garden.
OSU Fact Sheets numbers 7307 and 7426 at facts.okstate.edu.