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Beneficial Insects: a Natural Pesticide for Your Garden

How do you keep bugs out of your garden without using pesticides? One tried and true method is to grow plants that attract beneficial insects – that is, pest-eating bugs like bees and ladybugs.

Blue insect on log

Which are the beneficial insects?

These are bugs who eat the other bugs that would eat your garden. We’re talking about ladybugs, certain types of flies and wasps, Praying Mantis, green lacewings, and a number of other species.

Not every species of friendly bug lives in every region, so you’ll need to find out which ones are common in your area before you try attracting them. You may be able to find a website for your region by searching for a phrase like “native bugs Florida.”

If that doesn’t work, look for books at your local library. You can also ask a local gardening shop what bugs you can expect to attract.

But there’s a general rule: if you know one of the plants on these lists grows well in your area, chances are the bugs who like it thrive there, too. So, for example, dill attracts several types of beneficial insects, and it grows well in my area. And it’s delicious, so that’s one I always plant.

While you’re at it, you may want to think about replacing some high-maintenance grass with lower maintenance plants.

Ladybug on top of a daisy

How to Attract Beneficial Insects

FarmerFred has the scoop on this with a page listing helpful bugs and the plants that attract them. See also The Garden Helper’s page on “good bugs” and Natural Life Magazine’s article.

Once you know what bugs you want to attract, it’s just a matter of planting the right plants in the right spot. For example, if aphids keep targeting your rosebush, put butterfly weed or dill near the rosebush to attract ladybugs who will eat the aphids.

Is that bug/cocoon/egg an ally or an enemy?

Closeup of Praying Mantis

Once you start attracting bugs, you’ll want to know how to tell friendly bugs from enemy bugs. Dave’s Garden has a searchable database of 5,000 bugs, which is very helpful if you have some idea what your mystery bug might be.

Country Farm Lifestyles also has a helpful page for learning more about the insects in your garden.

Another important aspect of promoting the beneficial insects is knowing not to kill them when they’re in egg or larval stages.

Plants that Repel Nasty Insects

There’s another tactic that can supposedly work in gardens. I haven’t had much luck with it, but I’m still working on it. It’s possible I just haven’t got it right yet.

When you’ve got pest insects – in my case, Japanese beetles eating flowering plants – there is no bug that eats them. There are supposedly some birds who do, but I get plenty of those birds in my yard and they’re clearly not eating enough of the Japanese beetles to save any plants.

But there apparently are plants that Japanese beetles don’t like. One of them is the marigold. Since marigolds are cheap and easy to cultivate, I’m going to plant them around the flowering bushes the beetles are destroying.

I’ll update this post when I see if it works or not.

More helpful links

  • Beyond Pesticides has lots of species-specific advice for natural, less-toxic bug control. There is no such thing as non-toxic pesticide, only those that won’t kill many organisms other than insects.
  • HGTV has an article listing some of the best bugs to find in your garden.