Day and night, pesticide-free organic gardens are abuzz with activity, much of it a life-and-death struggle between predators and prey. We seldom see much of this natural pest control, in which tiny assassins patrol their surroundings in pursuit of their next meal. Assassin bugs aren’t picky: They will stab, poison and devour a wide range of garden pests, including caterpillars, leafhoppers and bean beetles. Soldier and ground beetles work the night shift, emerging after dark from beneath rocks, mulch and other daytime hiding places to feast upon soft-bodied insects and the eggs of Colorado potato beetles. Aphid lions (the larvae of the lacewing) have a hooked jaw that helps them dispatch huge numbers of aphids, caterpillars, mites and other pests.
Learning about the beneficial insects in your garden will make it a more fascinating place, and help you tweak it in ways that intensify the work done by wild garden allies. This is often a simple matter of avoiding the use of pesticides (including organic ones) and growing plenty of flowers to provide beneficial insects with pollen and nectar. In greenhouses or other special situations, you may even decide to purchase and release certain lab-raised beneficial insects. This will not be necessary with the beneficial insects described here, because all will naturally gravitate toward a diversified organic garden.
Below we feature the best beneficial insects for your garden, each one beautifully illustrated. Get to know these garden helpers individually and make a plan for how you can incorporate them into your garden as part of your natural pest control strategy.
Braconid wasps play an important role in controlling insect pests. Braconids are beneficial insects that lay their eggs inside or on host insects, and then the maggot-like wasp larvae weaken the host pest.
The busy ground beetles‘ diet can help control slugs, asparagus beetles, caterpillars, Colorado potato beetles, corn earworms, cutworms, squash vine borers and tobacco budworms.
Have you ever wondered, “What do honeybees eat?” If so, and if you’d like to attract these beneficial insects to your garden, this piece crammed full of honeybee information is a good place to start.
Hoverfly larvae eat mealybugs and small caterpillars, and are especially helpful with organic aphid control. Adult hoverflies feed on nectar and pollen, and you can attract them to your garden with flowering plants.
Beneficial lacewing larvae prey on aphids, cabbage worms, caterpillar eggs and more. Learn how to attract these garden helpers.
Lady beetles feed on all sorts of garden pests, including aphids, small caterpillars and insect eggs. They even feed on powdery mildew. Learn how to attract them to your organic garden for natural pest control.
The mason bee is a great pollinator and can work blossoms at a lower temperature than honeybees. Mason bees are so named because they pack mud into their nests, like brick masons.
The praying mantis is a beneficial predatory insect that provides grasshopper control and more. Learn to create an inviting praying mantis habitat.
If your goal is to squash garden pests naturally by attracting beneficial insects, then welcome assassin bugs with open, dirt-covered arms.
Brush up on your soldier beetle facts, including what soldier beetles eat, where they live, and how to attract this beneficial insect to your organic garden.
Pest outbreaks could be rare if you have lots of beneficial insects and spiders in the garden. Learn how to attract various types of garden spiders.
The Tachinid or “Diptera” species is well worth inviting to your organic garden because of its ferocious appetite for garden pests such as Japanese beetles and grasshoppers.
Itty-bitty trichogramma wasp larvae develop inside of and eat insect eggs, especially those of cabbage worms, codling moths and European corn borers.
Yellow jacket wasps feed their young liquefied insects, with caterpillars, flies and spiders comprising the largest food groups during most of the summer. The effect: Adios, garden pests!
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Even More Articles About Beneficial Insects in the Garden
Peruse our list of the best plants to get more of the good guys working with you in your garden.
Plant the right flowers to attract beneficial insects to your garden.
Interplant flowers with your food crops to promote a balanced insect ecology and achieve natural insect control without toxic pesticides.