Dorothy is a Master Gardener, former newspaper reporter, and the author of several books. Michael is a landscape/nature photographer in NM.
Which Insects Are Beneficial to Gardeners?
Wouldn't it be nice if chemical pesticides only wiped out the bad bugs in your yard? If that were the case, most experts might not be hesitant about recommending them from time to time.
The sad truth is that chemical pesticides will also obliterate the beneficial insects that allow you to sustain a great lawn or garden. These beneficial insects are the natural predators of the garden pests that cause many of us to have some pretty miserable days in the garden.
Some people, however, are confused about which ones are beneficial and which ones are the pests. This article is going to introduce you to three insects you don't want to get rid of because they are out there working for you!
Three Beneficial Garden Predators
- Praying mantises
On Being Merciful to Spiders
“She asks me to kill the spider.
Instead, I get the most
peaceful weapons I can find.
I take a cup and a napkin.
I catch the spider, put it outside
and allow it to walk away.
If I am ever caught in the wrong place
at the wrong time, just being alive
and not bothering anyone,
I hope I am greeted
with the same kind
— Rudy Francisco, Poet
Spiders eat hundred of tons of insects each year so don't panic when you see one—just let him get rid of some of your garden pests. Since most spiders complete their life cycle in one year, it is best to leave them alone.
Most Spiders Are Harmless to Humans
Forget all the scary stuff you've read in books and seen in movies about spiders. Yes, spiders have lots of eyes and hairy legs, but most of them are harmless to us. Thanks to the many great photographers with extreme close-up lenses we are able to see them up close and they are definitely a scary sight. Those photographs can make even the tiniest spider look like a creature out of a science fiction movie.
However, in your yard, spiders are your friends (except for black widows or brown recluses—you'll want to stay away from them). Most of the approximately 4,000 species of spiders in the United States are just looking for an insect to eat.
Common Garden Pests Spiders Eat
- Cucumber beetles
Spiders will do their best to keep the populations of garden pests to a minimum and they begin their work as soon as the insects begin appearing.
How to Attract Spiders to Your Garden
It's easy to attract spiders if you are a gardener who loves flowers and vegetables. If you have plenty of insects around your yard, the spiders will come.
Leave the pest control to spiders and avoid spraying dangerous chemicals that can contaminate soil, water, turf, and other vegetation, along with being toxic to birds, fish, beneficial insects, and non-target plants.
2. Praying Mantises
The praying mantis gets its name for the way its front legs are bent in a “praying” motion but luckily for us, it has a voracious appetite and is only praying for an unsuspecting garden pest to get close enough to devour.
The praying mantis is the only known insect that can turn its head and look over its shoulder. A mantis will blend in very well with its environment, making it easy to stalk and kill all kinds of insects.
Common Garden Pests Praying Mantises Eat
|Soft-Bodied Insects When Young||Larger Insects When Fully Mature|
Drawbacks of Praying Mantises in Yard
The only downsides I have found are that they will also kill hummingbirds (so if you see one close to a hummingbird feeder you should relocate him to another part of your yard). They don't discriminate; they will eat many beneficial insects as well. With that being said, however, I still love having praying mantises in my yard, having found them to be simply fascinating insects.
A praying mantis can kill prey that is three times its size, including snakes, mice or small turtles but if you handle them properly, they won't harm you. Praying mantises will also prey on each other.
How to Attract Praying Mantises
Rose and raspberry plants are very attractive to the praying mantis but they also look for tall grasses and shrubs, which provide them the shelter they need from their own predators, frogs, bats, monkeys, larger birds, spiders, and snakes.
Unless you are attracting them because they are fun to watch, I don't recommend attracting praying mantises because they practice a non-discrimination policy and will eat ladybugs and other beneficial insects as well as other praying mantises.
Lifecycle of a Ladybug
3. Ladybugs: The Most Popular Pest Control
What's not to love about ladybugs in your yard? Both the larvae and adult ladybugs eat small insects, consuming approximately 40-50 aphids an hour. They do all of this without harming your yard or plants in any way.
Common Garden Pests Ladybugs Eat
- Beetle grubs
- Spider mites
- Other soft-bodied insects
Many people are yet to recognize the ladybug in the larvae stage because they look nothing like ladybugs. Instead, they resemble black, orange-spotted caterpillars or grubs with prickly-looking spines sticking up. When you see one, don't get rid of it because it will soon turn into the most widely-recognized pest-control insect around.
Another thing to avoid is the destruction of any ladybug eggs you might see. The eggs are yellow and laid in groups of about 15-30 on the underside of leaves so they are protected from predators and the weather. The photographs above show the four stages of a ladybug's life cycle. Learn to recognize all of them so you don't destroy them by mistake.
How to Attract Ladybugs
You can try to attract ladybugs by building a ladybug feeder but the easiest way is to buy them, either online or at a plant nursery. If you buy them, don't try and release them too early in the season because they will either fly away or starve.
If you buy them online, you can store them in the refrigerator for up to three weeks. Release them late in the evening during the dew period and if there is no dew, spray your garden before you release them. Instead of tossing them into the air, place them gently on the ground at the base of the plants you are trying to protect. They will usually climb up the nearest plant and begin searching for food.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2019 Mike and Dorothy McKenney
Mike and Dorothy McKenney (author) from United States on December 07, 2019:
I checked out your site. Very good information! Maybe some of my readers will go there as well.
Viral Accent from Faridabad on December 07, 2019:
Nice and informative article shared. Thanks for sharing this. Also, check out VIRALACCENT.COM for amazing facts about insects.
Mike and Dorothy McKenney (author) from United States on December 06, 2019:
I used to pretty much hate all insects until I became a Master Gardener and learned about the benefits of many of them. Thanks!
Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on December 06, 2019:
What a wonderful informative article!
I had no idea that the above mentioned insects are helpful in keeping the pests and bugs off the plants. I have noticed them in the garden and now I feel good they are there.
You are right that they are better compared to the chemical sprays.
Thanks for sharing this useful information.