Beneficials: Guide to Friendly Insects in the Garden
Part 1: Types of Beneficials to Help Gardeners
When we first started flower gardening, we had no concept of beneficial insects, and the role they can play in the constant battle against bad actors in your garden. We quickly learned that we could encourage the homesteading of lady bugs, praying mantis, bees, spiders, dragon flies and others.
ben·e·fi·cials | \ ˌbe-nə-ˈfi-shəlz \
: organisms (such as ladybugs, lacewings, and bacteria) that feed on or parasitize pests of crops, gardens, and turfDefinition from Merriam Webster beneficials
Types of Beneficial Insects
Beneficial predators consume garden pests, either by piercing their bodies or by chewing and ingesting them. Predators are typically larger than their prey and are much fewer in number than other beneficials. Most predators are indiscriminate feeders, and will eat anything they can catch in the garden. Just about every order of insect includes some species that are beneficial to the garden. There are beneficial beetles, flies, true bugs, ants, bees, wasps, mantises, lacewings, dragonflies and thrips. There are several types of beneficial arachnids including all spiders, predatory mites and daddy-longlegs.
Beneficial parasites, like predators, attack and consume some part of their garden prey. Unlike predatory beneficials, however, parasites are typically smaller than their prey and only attack a single, specific host en masse. Examples are parasitic wasps, parasitic flies, nematodes, or bacteria.
Beneficial pollinators are movers of pollen from flower to flower. Without the movement of pollen by insects, 90% of all flowering plants could not reproduce, including most of our food crops. Most known of the insect pollinators are bees. Others plants require insects or birds to spread their pollen. Among the insect pollinators are bees, wasps, flies, butterflies, moths, beetles, and lacewings.
Beneficial decay organisms are the wrecking crew of the garden, and help break down dead plants and animals into a form of organic matter that is necessary for nutrients and plant growth. In addition to enriching the soil, organic matter contributes to a healthy soil structure, reduces soil compaction and improves both soil drainage and its water-holding capacity. The organisms of decay include bacteria and many kinds of fungi. Many diverse insects are also part of the overall decay process. Among these are ants and flies (maggots), but there are many others, such as, beetle and moth borers that only attack dead wood (for example, firewood) and bristletails. Other invertebrate involved in the decay process include earthworms, millipedes, sowbugs and pillbugs.
In my next post I’ll present a list of the most popular types of beneficials.
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