As we are well aware, there are pests of all shapes and sizes that will attempt to eat your crops before you can. This summer, we’ve had run-ins with potato beetles, Japanese beetles, and the formidable tomato hornworm, to name a few. While there are clearly many creatures out to destroy our plant babies, there are some critters that help us too. These insects can do your garden good by eating the harmful bugs, cross-pollinating, and/or creating a richer environment.
Where can I find these insects? Can I create a small army of them to save my tomatoes? The answer is yes! You can build a healthy garden ecosystem with the help of some plants that either attract the beneficial bugs or deter the bad ones. These plants will draw in your allies and they will look good doing it too.
- Monarch Butterflies and Milkweed – These butterflies are beautiful and will do a wonderful job of pollinating your garden. A proven way to attract them is by interspersing milkweed throughout your garden, or by leaving a patch of it on the edge. At Ethan Allen Homestead, milkweed is found in the strawberry patch. However, milkweed can prove to be a persistent weed, make sure you cut off the seed pods before they open to keep it from taking over your garden.
- Ladybugs and Hoverflies – Morning glory vines, goldenrod, and yarrow will attract these beauties. Adult hoverflies consume nectar and the young ones are known to feast on aphids and other small bugs, keeping them off your precious plants. Ladybugs aren’t picky; they will eat aphids, Colorado potato beetles, mites, and more.
- Green Lacewings – Attracted by flowers like cosmos, sweet alyssum, or cornflower, green lacewings will eat aphids, spider mites, and caterpillar eggs.
- Toads, Newts, and Birds (oh my!) – To attract bigger predators, it is helpful to add grasses, perennial alfalfa, or goldenrod in front of your vegetables and fruit plants. Flowers, grasses, and nearby birdhouses are ideal hangouts for birds that love to eat garden pests. Toads and newts dwell in cool, dark, moist places, like a half-buried, sideways flowerpot or a thick mulch pathway. If toads enjoy your area, they will return for seasons to come.
- Wasps – Now, a gross one: Trichogramma wasps will inject their eggs into a caterpillar and their young larvae will eat the host from the inside out! Save this one for your worst enemies. But seriously though remember the leek moth from previous posts this helpful wasp will help you keep those tenacious leek moths under control!
- Onions and Garlic – These two crops, and others in the onion family, will hold off pests like the Japanese beetle, vegetable weevil, and spider mite. The reason for their magical deterring powers is drum-roll please… because they’re smelly.
- Celery – This veggie is avoided by the white moth, whose green caterpillar larvae will munch on cabbage, broccoli, and other Brassicas in your plot.
- Seed Mixes – You can buy seed mixes, with names like “Good bug blend,” that contain clover, alfalfa, alyssium, carrot, celery, dill, and nasturtium—all of which are proven to be favored by beneficial bug populations.
At the Tommy Thompson garden, Denise has planted a “beneficial insect garden.” Ask her about it or go see it for yourself! One specific plant chosen for this bed was mountain-mint, which was hosting a crowd of bees when I first saw it. Mountain-mint is edible and medicinal, raw or cooked the flower buds and leaves are edible and have a hot, spicy, mint-like flavor. So not only does this plant attract lots of helpful pollinators it also tastes great and has medicinal uses. To find more advice and tips for next year’s garden, check out The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible by Edward C. Smith, where I found most of this information. Happy harvesting!