Ladybeetles consume pest insects as food.
Ladybeetles consume pest insects as food. iStock

Encourage insects to be your garden helpers

Everyone loves a bit of help in the garden, and some of the best helpers are happy to work all day, every day for nothing.

Beneficial insects will devote their entire lives to helping your garden if you let them. They fall into three broad groups - pollinators, predators and parasites.

Pollinators such as bees fertilise flowers and increase the production of fruit and vegetable crops. Much of the pollinating work in the food garden is performed by insects, most notably bees, hoverflies and butterflies. So it's important to provide nectar sources by planting flowers.

Predators such as lacewings, ladybeetles and hoverflies consume pest insects as food. Some adults feed on pollen, nectar and honeydew and some feed on insects. All lay eggs that produce predatory larvae that feed on soft-bodied insects such as aphids, thrips, mites, scale, mealy bugs and caterpillars.

Parasites use pests as nurseries for their young - they deposit eggs on or into the pest or its eggs. The larvae hatch and ultimately consume and kill the pest. Most parasites are small, stingless wasps or flies. There are many species, and the adults usually feed on nectar and pollen.

If you want these bugs working for you, there are two things you need to do.

First, reduce or eliminate the use of pesticides in your garden. Many sprays, including pyrethrum, will kill good bugs as well as bad ones, making your pest control job even harder. There are some safe, selective pest control products on the market, so do your research before reaching for the sprays.

Second, give the good bugs a reason to take up residence in your garden by providing food and shelter for them. You can grow insect-attracting plants in your vegie patch or in a separate, nearby area.

Insect hotels will provide shelter in an urban garden.

Flowers are a source of food for many pest-controlling insects, particularly in their adult form. Among the favourites are flowers such as fennel, dill, Italian parsley, daisies, cosmos, zinnias, dandelions, marigolds, tansy, sunflowers, thistle and yarrow.

One of the beautiful things about this approach is that it helps us to appreciate the full life cycle of the plant, not just the period when we can eat it. Instead of getting miserable when the coriander starts to flower as it goes to seed, you can now delight in the fact that those pretty flowers will attract beneficial insects that will feed and breed, thus providing free, natural pest control for your garden.

Got a gardening question? Email maree@edenatbyron.com.au


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