Larry Slawson received his Master's Degree at UNC Charlotte. He has 15+ years of gardening experience, working with a variety of plants.
The 10 Most Beneficial Insects for Your Garden
- Praying Mantis
- Ground Beetles
- Green Lacewing
- Minute Pirate Bug
- Braconid Wasp
- Aphid Midge
- Spined Soldier Bug
Aside from being a beautiful addition to your garden, ladybugs offer numerous benefits as they are a natural enemy to a variety of insects, particularly aphids and sap feeders. A single ladybug is capable of eating nearly 5,000 aphids during its lifespan (approximately fifty bugs a day). As a result, they are great for controlling/managing pests in your garden, crops, or landscapes (uky.edu).
How to Attract Ladybugs
In addition to aphids, ladybugs also feed on scale-insects, mites, potato beetles, and whiteflies. To attract these beneficial bugs, plant dandelion, fern-leaf yellow, basket of gold, and dill around your garden area. Because ladybugs enjoy pollen (in addition to insects), flowers such as Angelica, Marigolds, and Sweet Alyssum are also effective at attracting these tiny bugs. Another effective strategy for maintaining a ladybug presence is to plant “decoy plants” in your garden, such as cabbage and radishes that attract aphids (uky.edu). While the move may seem counterproductive, these plants will attract just enough aphids to your garden to keep your ladybugs happy.
2. Praying Mantis
Similar to the ladybug, a praying mantis is a beneficial addition to your garden due to its voracious appetite for bugs. Due to its size, few bugs can stand their own against a praying mantis attack. Hunting for prey around the clock, the mantis feeds on a large variety of insects including flies, caterpillars, crickets, grasshoppers, and moths (gardeninsects.com). As a result, the praying mantis is highly-effective in controlling insect populations throughout your garden.
How to Attract Praying Mantises
To encourage praying mantises to come to your garden, avoid the use of pesticides, and plant a variety of flowers and herbs, such as dill and caraway. The praying mantis also needs water to thrive, so placing shallow dishes of water with a small layer of rocks (or pebbles) is also helpful. The inclusion of straw, or hay is also effective in attracting praying mantises as it affords them an effective means to hide from other predators in the area (gardeninsects.com). One important thing to note about the praying mantis, however, is that a mantis population can also be detrimental to your garden if not controlled. This is due to the fact that mantises do not discriminate between beneficial and harmful bugs, and will consume helpful bugs such as ladybugs and bees if other food sources are not available.
Bumblebees (and most bees in general) are a beneficial addition to your garden due to their ability to aid in the pollination of plants. When bees travel from one flower to another, pollen grains stick to the bumblebee and are transferred to other flowers/plants when the bee lands on them. This process is known as “buzz pollination.” Bumblebees pollinate in all forms of weather, and are responsible for approximately two-thirds of the total pollination that occurs in the United States each year. As a result, bumblebees are vital for gardens to grow and thrive (gardeners.com).
How to Attract Bumblebees
To attract bumblebees to your garden, plant ground cover to provide them with a place to hide in-between feedings. Bees also need water to prevent dehydration. Remedy this by placing small (and shallow) dishes of water around your yard so that the bees will have something to sip on occasionally. Bumblebees also love flowers and flowering fruits/vegetables. Butterfly Weed, Poppies, and Lilies are particular favorites of bumblebees.
4. Ground Beetles
Similar to the other insects on this list, ground beetles are a predatory species that prey on common garden pests. These small beetles which are primarily nocturnal, prey on both slugs and snails, as well as cutworms, cabbage maggots, ants, aphids, and caterpillars. One ground beetle, alone, is able to eat more than fifty caterpillars during its relatively short lifespan. In the United States, there are currently more than 2,500 known species of ground beetles.
How to Attract Ground Beetles
To attract these beneficial beetles to your garden, build small, raised garden beds with native perennials and grasses (along with a solid layer of mulch). Avoid the use of insecticides, and provide the area with large rocks and/or logs for the beetles to hide (and take shelter) under.
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Another beneficial insect for your garden is the dragonfly. Similar to the praying mantis, dragonflies are relatively large, and prey on a large variety of garden pests. Capable of flying at speeds of nearly thirty-five miles per hour, dragonflies are great for controlling flying insects, as well as moths and midges. Dragonflies are also great for controlling mosquito populations in the vicinity of your home. These insects are capable of eating their own body weight (in bugs) every half-hour (tamu.edu).
How to Attract Dragonflies
To attract dragonflies to your garden, provide your garden with a small pond or fountain as the females like to lay their eggs in wet/muddy areas. Dot your ponds and fountains with water lilies and other forms of submerged vegetation to provide refuge for female dragonflies. As with all the other insects on this list, also avoid the use of pesticides and bug zappers as well.
6. Green Lacewing
Another great addition to your garden is the green lacewing. These bugs are a natural enemy to soft-bodied insects, as their larvae are known to prey on aphids, spider mites, whiteflies, thrips, grasshoppers, and mealybugs until they reach full maturity. They have also been known to attack small caterpillars, as well as a large variety of beetles, and are capable of consuming upwards of 200+ pests per week (insectary.com). Upon reaching adulthood, the green lacewing subsists primarily on nectar and pollen, before laying additional eggs (upwards of 200 at a time) that continue their life cycle.
How to Attract Green Lacewings
To attract the green lacewing to your garden, adequate ground cover such as grass, shrubs and trees are necessary for larvae development. Flowers and herbs such as daisies, dandelions, goldenrod, sunflowers, dill, oregano, and mountain mint are excellent food sources for the green lacewings to thrive. For gardeners with adequate environments already developed, the green lacewing is also available commercially, and can be purchased from a variety of stores and websites. As with all insects on this list, however, pesticides (either natural or standard) should be avoided when implementing these bugs into your garden.
7. Minute Pirate Bug
The minute pirate bug is a common insect predator found from the Anthocoridae family of bugs. These insects make for an excellent addition to gardens, as they are known to actively feed on a large array of garden pests, including (but not limited to) aphids, caterpillars, thrips, and spider mites. Despite being incredibly small (reaching only 1/8” inch long), the pirate bug uses a “sharp needle-like beak” that allows it to latch on to its prey, and literally suck the juices out of its body (entomology.wisc.edu). Fully matured pirate bugs are capable of consuming upwards of 30+ spider mites a day, making them an excellent choice for gardeners who prefer natural pest control options.
How to Attract Minute Pirate Bugs
To attract minute pirate bugs to your garden, incorporate flowering plants and shrubs such as marigolds, cosmos, caraway, alfalfa, spearmint, and goldenrod. These plants provide a secondary source of food to the pirate bug when prey is limited, as they enjoy both their pollen and nectar. The use of pesticides and insecticides should also be avoided as much as possible. As with many beneficial bugs on this list, the minute pirate bug is also available for purchase from a variety of stores and websites.
8. Braconid Wasp
The braconid wasp is a member of the Hymenoptera family of bugs, and is an excellent addition to gardens due to their ability to feed on a large array of pests. The braconid wasp is considered a parasite due to the fact that it injects eggs into “host” insects by stinging its victims with an ovipositor. As the eggs hatch inside their host, the larvae begin to consume the insect’s body as they develop; eventually killing their host and emerging as fully-grown braconid wasps. Although hornworms are often their primary source of food, the braconid wasp is known to attack upwards of 1,000+ species of insects, making them a perfect choice for gardeners who prefer to avoid pesticides (tamu.edu).
How to Attract Braconid Wasps
Braconid wasps prefer warm, temperate climates and are best-suited to environments where summers are both hot and humid. To attract these bugs to your garden, plant numerous flowers and herbs such as alyssum, chamomile, catnip, feverfew, buckwheat, dill, and fennel due to their ability to produce both nectar and pollen (tamu.edu).
9. Aphid Midge
Aphid midges are tiny fly-like insects known to consume large quantities of aphids due to their voracious appetites. Aphid midges have been observed eating sixty different species of aphids (which consume vegetable crops, fruit trees, and ornamentals), making them a beneficial bug for any garden environment. At less than 1/8” inch long, the aphid midges are remarkably small, and often spend much of the day hiding under leaves. At night, the insects emerge, however, to actively hunt; consuming upwards of 65 aphids per day. Aphid midges attack their prey by biting and injecting their victims with poison that paralyzes them; allowing the midge to consume bugs at its leisure. Introducing these bugs into your garden offers an effective means of controlling aphids for the duration of the growing season, as these insects will reproduce multiple times throughout the year.
How to Attract Aphid Midges
Aphid midges can be found throughout all of North America and in parts of Europe. They can be attracted to your garden by planting a variety of nectar and pollen-producing plants/flowers, and require a source of water to thrive. Because of their small and lightweight size, aphid midges also require protection from the wind. Gardeners can remedy this problem by strategically placing large rocks around their garden’s perimeter. Aphid midges are also available for purchase at a wide array of stores and websites.
10. Spined Soldier Bug
The spined soldier bug is a medium-sized species of stink bug that is known to prey on nearly 90+ species of garden pests (ufl.edu). Potential prey includes the Mexican bean beetle, diamondback moth, earworm, cabbageworm, potato beetle, caterpillar, and flea beetle (ufl.edu). Best suited for warmer climates, the spined soldier bug is an excellent choice for gardeners who wish to control pests in a more natural manner; avoiding the use of dangerous pesticides or insecticides. The bug consumes its prey by latching on to its victims and by sucking out its inner fluids. Living upwards of 180 days, the soldier bug is known to consume upwards of 100 caterpillars during its lifetime, along with a large number of other insects.
How to Attract Spined Soldier Bugs
The spined soldier bug is best-suited for gardens containing potatoes, tomatoes, corn, eggplants, beans, apples, onions, and asparagus as these crops are known to attract a large variety of prey. Planting perennials and ground cover provides the bug with adequate shelter (and a secondary source of food when pest-populations begin to dwindle). Although the soldier bug is known to suck on vegetable and plant juices when its food sources are low, research has shown that the bugs cause no harm to crops. These insects are also available for purchase at a variety of stores and websites; however, it should be noted that the cost of these bugs has grown substantially over the last few decades due to their popularity with commercial growers.
In closing, there are a large variety of insects available that are beneficial for gardens (and gardeners). Attracting these beneficial insects is great for a variety of reasons; particularly since they allow gardeners to forgo the use of harmful pesticides and insecticides. While pesticides are effective in diminishing insect populations in your garden, exposure to these chemicals is not only harmful to human health, but has also been linked to a variety of diseases and cancers when used extensively. Introducing beneficial bugs to your garden carries none of these health risks, as the bugs provide a natural and safe defense against common pests; protecting both your flowers and plants from harm.
“Attracting Beneficial Bees: Gardener's Supply.” Gardeners Supply. Accessed September 18, 2019.
"Braconid Wasp." Texas A&M University. Accessed September 18, 2019.
"Dragonflies." Texas A&M University. Accessed September 18, 2019.
“Green Lacewing – Chrysoperla Rufilabris.” Beneficial Insectary Inc. Accessed September 18, 2019.
“Ladybugs.” Entomology. University of Kentucky. Accessed September 18, 2019.
"Midwest Biological Control News." University of Wisconsin. Accessed September 18, 2019.
"The Praying Mantis." Garden Insects. Accessed September 18, 2019.
"Spined Soldier Bug - Podisus maculiventris." University of Florida. Accessed September 18, 2019.
“Spined Soldier Bug.” Entomology. University of Kentucky. Accessed September 18, 2019.
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 Larry Slawson
Mohan Babu from Chennai, India on October 11, 2019:
It is a great article Larry. It is a great way go control pests by adding garden friendly insects.
Lorna Lamon on September 19, 2019:
I was intrigued by your list Larry and I'm glad to say I have a few of the bugs listed, namely Dragonflies,Ladybugs and the Bumble Bee.
Larry Slawson (author) from North Carolina on September 18, 2019:
I agree, Pamela! I'm glad you enjoyed. I had never heard of the green lacewing either until I researched this topic more.
Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on September 18, 2019:
I think the balance of nature is quite fascinating. I have never tried to attract bugs to my flower garden, but I do like to have flowers for the bumble bees. I was familiar with most of those bugs but the green lacewing was new to me. This was a very interesting article.