Attracting Beneficial Insects to Your Garden

Reader Contribution by Ira Wallace
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<p>A flowering border alive
and buzzing with beneficial insects can be absolutely breathtaking. <a href=”″>Doug
Tallamy</a>’s talk “Bringing Nature Home” has reminded us
how crucial flowering plants, in particular native plants, are to supporting
beneficial insects in our gardens. Dr. Tallamy’s message was loud and clear: gardeners
can make choices that impact the diversity of life in our yards, our towns, and
our worlds.</p>
<p>Beneficial insects help in
the garden as pollinators, as food for other beneficial insects, and by eating insect
pests. Many of the predatory insects we’re familiar with in the Southeast, the hundreds
of hoverflies and parasitic wasps, also serve a double role as pollinators during
part of their lifecycle.</p>

<p>An easy place for
vegetable gardeners to start is to put out the <a href=””>welcome
mat for beneficial insects</a>. First, <strong>stop spraying pesticides</strong>, even organic
ones. Next, work to <strong>include year round
food shelter</strong> for beneficial insects in or near your garden. Leave some leaf
and plant litter on the ground over winter to improve habitat. <strong>Build insectary borders</strong> that include a
variety of native plants: trees, shrubs, grasses, flowering perennials, and annuals.
<p>Your border can work at
any scale, from a small strip of plants in a city garden to a vast hedgerow
between rural properties. Having the right kinds of plants in the border is
what’s important. Many beneficial insects don’t have specialized mouth parts
like bees, butterflies, and moths, so they need plants that have a lot of small
flowers with exposed nectaries. Choose plants that are “user friendly” with
blooms in clusters of small flowers rather than one large bloom, for easy
access to pollen and nectar.</p>
<p>The three main “user friendly”
types of flower to keep in mind are <strong>umbels</strong>
(flat-topped flower clusters), loose <strong>spikes</strong>
of small flowers (like thyme, mint, and lavender), and <strong>daisy</strong> type flowers (each “flower” is really a tight cluster of many
small flowers.) Dill, fennel, parsley, and cilantro all have insect-friendly umbels,
so plant these herbs where you can let them make flowers. The daisy-types
include many perennials, like daisies, coreopsis, and asters, as well as
annuals like sunflowers, zinnias, and cosmos.</p>

<p>Many <a href=””>plants
that support beneficial insects</a> are attractive and provide interest in
multiple seasons. Anise hyssop, echinacea, potentillas, lavender, and pussy
willows attract loads of insects and are easy to fit in most gardens. Insects
need blooms all season, so try to arrange for successive waves of flowers throughout the year. <a href=””>Native
plants support many more insect herbivores</a> than non-natives, so
select native plants whenever possible. </p>
<p>Early spring can be hard
times for insects that feed on flowers and early emerging predators like minute
pirate bugs. Choose plants that flower in early spring, like cilantro and
willow, and let some early chickweed or wild mustard flowers linger in your
garden. </p>
<p>To learn more about how
you can invite native pollinators and other beneficial insects into your garden
visit the <a href=””>Xerces Society</a>. Dr. Tallamy
is Chair of the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology and Director of
the Center for Managed Ecosystems at the University of Delaware. His award
winning book is <a href=”″>Bringing
Nature Home: How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in Our Gardens</a>,
<p>Thanks for stopping by and
we hope you’ll come back often to see what we’ve got growing and cooking. </p>
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<hr align=”center” width=”100%” size=”2″>
<em>Ira Wallace was lives and gardens at Acorn Community Farm
home of </em>
<a title=”Southern Exposure Seed Exchange” target=”_blank” href=””>Southern Exposure Seed Exchange</a>
she coordinates variety selection and seed growers. Southern Exposure offers
700+ varieties of non-GMO, open pollinated and organic seeds. Ira is also a
co-organizer of the </em>
<a title=”Heritage Harvest

Festival at Monticello” target=”_blank” href=””>Heritage Harvest
Festival at Monticello</a>
<em>. She serves on the board of the
Organic Seed Alliance and is a frequent presenter at the MOTHER EARTH NEWS
FAIRS </em>
<a title=”and many other events” target=”_blank” href=””>and many other events</a>
<em>throughout the Southeast.</em>

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