Organic Pest Control:
The Best Plants to Attract Beneficial Insects and Bees

Bee pollinating flowerPesticides — even organic varieties — are not the safest, healthiest or most effective natural pest control options. The addition of certain plants from the list below to your garden or farm will encourage biodiversity and a healthy population of beneficial garden insects that act as Mother Nature’s best organic pest control. Integrated Pest Management (IPM) and sustainable agriculture methodology both rely heavily on the use of plants known to attract beneficial insects that prey on damaging garden pests. According to Dr. Geoff Zehnder, Professor of entomology at Clemson, “If you are going to farm or garden organically, you need to build in attractants for beneficials.”

The first rule to learn is the distinction between the “good guys” and the “bad guys”: Not all pests are a threat to your garden plants, and many of them are actually helpful in fighting off other plant predators. (See Your Garden’s ‘Most Wanted’ Beneficial Insects for more specifics.) As described in a previous MOTHER EARTH NEWS online article, Protect Your Garden with Beneficial Bugs, you can classify the good guys using the three “P’s” system:

“The three ‘P’s’ of beneficial insects are pollinators, predators and parasites. Pollinators, such as honeybees, fertilize flowers, which increases the productivity of food crops ranging from apples to zucchini. Predators, such as lady beetles and soldier bugs, consume pest insects as food. Parasites use pests as nurseries for their young. On any given day, all three ‘P’s’ are feeding on pests or on flower pollen and nectar in a diversified garden. If you recognize these good bugs, it’s easier to appreciate their work and understand why it’s best not to use broad-spectrum herbicides.”

The use of such herbicides and pesticides can be detrimental to the complex relationships between plants, pests and predators — all the more reason why natural insect control works better. Because pesticides, even organic varieties, make no distinction between helpful and hurtful insects, in the end their regular use can have many negative impacts, including the suppression of the soil food web and pollution of waterways. Instead, encouraging the presence of predatory warriors that will defend and protect your garden plants from common  pests is not only an environmentally sound management strategy, it also encourages biodiversity and plant pollination.

Using a strategy known as farmscaping, you can keep your pest population under control by adding plants to attract beneficial insects. A general rule of thumb is to designate between 5 and 10 percent of your garden or farm space to plants that bring in beneficials. An important key is to plant so that there are blooms year-round — the beneficial insects will not stay or survive through a season if no food is available. This continuous-bloom feature in farmscaping has earned the practice the nickname “chocolate box ecology” — your garden or farm will be beautiful year-round with a variety of colorful blooms and humming insects.

The list below is a compilation of the best plants to attract the good guys to your own farm or garden. For more specific planting information, including hardiness zones and bloom dates, you can search for each plant at Wildflowerinformation.org



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