lady bug

Lady beetles are considered “good” bugs as they prey on destructive aphids. ATTRIBUTION: Wikimedia Commons – Dominik Stodulski

There are hundreds of thousands of insect species in the world. Among them are a class of natural predators that repel unwanted insects, breakdown organic matter, and pose minimal risk to gardens. Without “good bugs” present to eliminate the bad, you’ll likely see signs of damage. Some of the most common pest problems I’ve noticed around my own gardens are holes or tracks on leaves. Other pests may set their sights on your crops, resulting in chewed, discolored, or deformed plants. Introducing beneficial insects into your garden is an effective and non-toxic way to cease problem pests. First, you must distinguish the good bugs from the bad, then find effective ways to attract the insects to your garden.

Distinguishing the Good from the Bad

While most bugs are harmless, a select few can wreak havoc on your plants if left to their own devices. Beneficial insects provide important functions in your garden, such as protecting plants from destructive bugs. Many insects, such as butterflies, bees, and moths, are also responsible for distributing pollen from flowering plants.

Some insects provide other benefits in garden environments, such as aerating soil to alleviate compaction and the breaking down of dead materials. Some examples of “good bugs” for a garden include green lacewings, lady beetles, praying mantises, ground beetles, hoverflies, assassin bugs, parasitic wasps, and minute pirate bugs.

Spotting the “bad bugs” in your garden can be a little more challenging and may require close monitoring. If you notice a bug is eating your plants, check to see if the feeding is causing extensive damage. Finding a large number of insects on a single plant can also indicate a pest infestation.

If you’re not sure if a bug is bad or good, snap a photo of it compare it to images of insects online to locate the unfamiliar insect, or ask for an expert’s opinion. Some of the worst garden pests include mealybugs, aphids, cabbage worms, white flies, flea beetles, fire ants, caterpillars, bean leaf beetles, tarnished plant bugs, scales, and tomato hornworms.

Attracting Beneficial Bugs to a Garden

Attracting beneficial insects to your garden is key if you wish to maintain a healthy garden without the use of harmful insecticides. One of the best things you can do to attract “good bugs” is to plant plants known to attract certain species of insects. For example, lacewings are usually attracted to coriander, while lady beetles like fennel.

You will also want to add elements to your garden that provide shade and hiding places for nocturnal bugs. Rocks, stepping stones, mulch, and decorative pieces can act as safe havens for insects who require relief from the elements or prefer to stay hidden until the evening or night hours.

Just like most living creatures, insects need water to survive. Provide your garden guests with an adequate water supply, especially during the hot summer months. You can add water components in numerous ways, such as a decorative fountain or a small pond or waterfall. Just be sure to change the water on a regular basis to avoid attracting pesky mosquitos.