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Flowers, Fruits, and Frass

Local and statewide information on a variety of current topics for home gardeners and market growers.

Attracting Beneficial Insects

Posted by Kelly Allsup - Bugs

Attracting Beneficial Insects to Your Garden

By Kelly Allsup

With the warm spring weather and beautiful sunny days, everyone is ready to build their backyard fruit and vegetable gardens. Avid gardeners have their seedlings hardened off, their beds amended with rich compost, and have chosen their disease resistant tomato varieties. This weekend, when the greenhouses and nurseries are a flurry with patrons buying vegetable transplants, fertilizers and watering wands, think natural pest control.

Beneficial Insects are naturally occurring insects that prey on or parasitize garden pests. Their effective use can keep insect pests at a non-damaging level, reduce need for pesticides, and thus increase increasing the safety of your garden and its edible bounty.

steps to attracting beneficial insects

to your vegetable garden

  1. Know your garden pests

The best pest management practice rely on early detection. If you feel a plant just doesn't look right, has holes in the leaves, sticky residue on leaves, discoloring of leaves or poor growth, inspect all plant parts for signs of insect pests or set out yellow sticky cards with in the plant canopy for 24 hours to trap garden pests. To identify vegetable garden pests go to University of Illinois Extension: Common Problems for Vegetable Crops (

  1. Know your beneficial insects

Beneficial insects either prey or parasitize garden pests. Some beneficial insects are general predators and eat most soft bodied insects like a praying mantids or minute pirate bug. Some beneficial insects don't eat the insect pests but rather parasitize them by laying their eggs in the pest bodies. The young not only use garden pests as incubators but also have an available food source before emerging into the world. A parasitized insect pest can die quickly or slowly but should remain on plant for future adult emergence. For beneficial insect identification please refer to the laminated card set "The Good Guys! Natural Enemies of Pests" available through; 800-345-6087 or bring to University of Illinois Extension Master Gardener Help Desk.

  1. Change your pest management tactics

Most chemical pesticides traditionally used in gardens and landscaping have broad spectrum activity on insects. This broad spectrum activity kills beneficial insects and pollinators as well as garden pests. In addition, the residual of certain pesticides can prevent beneficial insects from visiting your garden for the rest of the season.

Instead, choose non-chemical pest management practices and or use Biopesticides. Biopesticides are derived from naturally occurring substances like sex pheromones or microorganisms. Biopesticides are more compatible with beneficial insects, generally only control target garden pests, are effective in small quantities, and decompose faster. For a list of Biopesticides for use in gardens please refer to Univeristy of Illinois: Home, Yard and Garden Pest Management Guide or ask at the University of Illinois Extension Master Gardener Help Desk.

  1. Non-chemical pest management practices

Many non-chemical pest management practices can be as effective at eliminating pest populations as using conventional pesticides. Physical removal of pests, good sanitation, and water sprays are practices that should be engaged by every gardener. Simple water sprays knock off pests like aphids and spider mites dramatically reducing population.

  1. Feed your beneficial insects

In addition to seeking out hosts to parasitize, adult parasitoids need to feed on nectar, honeydew, and pollen. This necessitates an environment that can sustain them over time. Insectaries are plantings that encourage the adult parasitoids to visit your garden. Gardeners should plant insectary plantings in your fruit and vegetable gardens. Good plant selections include, sweet alyssum, cosmos, coreopsis, milkweeds, coneflower, sunflower, clover, dill, fennel, and herbs. Spread plantings throughout garden or plant in a separate bed near the garden.

  1. Trap your garden pests

Use marigolds or pepper plants as trap crops. Trap crops are plants with greater desirability to insect pests than garden plants. These trap crops can then be removed, treated with pesticides, or kept in garden to maintain pest populations for beneficial insects.

  1. Accept some level of pest infestation

Using beneficial insects, non-chemical pest management practices, and Biopesticides as your pest management program will not fully eliminate garden pests, but will suppress large damaging populations. Some population of pests should remain to maintain the population of beneficial insects. A natural rise and fall of pest/beneficial insect population will occur.

  1. Plant Diversity

Gone are the days of the normal vegetable garden consisting only neat rows of just tomatoes and peppers. Grow a variety of vegetables, fruits, flowers and herbs to create a diverse garden. A diverse garden can eliminate devastating insect populations.

  1. Release Beneficial Insects

Many garden centers and internet sites sell beneficial insects for the home gardeners to introduce into the vegetable garden. Great beneficial insects like lacewings, minute pirate bugs, lady bird beetles, praying mantids and aphid parasitoids can be released into the garden. Beneficial insects will remain in the garden if there is enough of a food source.

This season, commit to addressing pest management issues in a more natural and sustainable approach. Eliminating or reducing conventional pesticide use, utilizing alternative pest management approaches and encouraging biodiversity with plants and insects can make you a successful green gardener and keep garden produce and environment free of chemical pesticides.

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