AUBURN, Ala. – Most people’s first reaction when they see an insect on their flowers or vegetables is to find a way to get rid of it. Sometimes this is the right thought process, but other times that insect could actually be helping the plant. There are several beneficial insects that help fight against harmful insects and provide other benefits.
Lucy Edwards, an Alabama Extension regional agent of home grounds, gardens and home pests, compiled a list of several commonly seen beneficial insects in Alabama.
- Lady beetles – Known as lady bugs, the adult and larvae species eat aphids. Aphids are destructive and sap-sucking insects known to be a gardener and farmers worst nightmare.
- Lacewings – The larvae feed on many soft-bodied insects such as aphids and caterpillars.
- Syrphid flies – Also called Hoverflies or flower flies. Their larvae also eat aphids and the adults pollinate flowers.
- Parasitic mini-wasps – The females lay eggs on insects such as aphids or caterpillars; their hatching larvae consume the pest and kill it.
- Spiders – All spiders feed on insects or other arthropods and are greatly beneficial in the garden, as well.
Though each insect has its own unique benefit, a lot of the aid they provide depends on the lifecycle stage they’re in. They could be feeding on insect pests or helping pollinate your plants.
“Without insects, three-fourths of our world’s flowering plants would not be pollinated,” Edwards said.
Insect pests are also good indicators of a stressed plant. Edwards suggests homeowners inspect their plants for signs of stress weakening the plant. Stress could be caused by too much or too little water, too much or too little fertilizer or the plant was planted incorrectly or in the wrong location.
Edwards said that beneficial insects have favorite plants they like to stay on. Some of the plants these insects are most attracted to are:
- Queen Ann’s lace
- Basil, Alyssum
- Garlic chives
- Anise hyssop
“Even though these and other flowering plants and shrubs are their go-to’s, when desperate, beneficial insects venture to other plants,” Edwards said.
Tips and Resources
Edwards said there are other ways you can keep the pest situation under control besides the use of harmful pesticides.
“Begin with a healthy plant in the right location. Next, care and maintain the plant as needed,” Edwards said. “People can use trap crops around a vegetable garden to attract the pest. Of course, there’s always the option to squash, trap or wash off the pest insects.”
For more information on insects pests and gardening, visit http://www.aces.edu/pubs/docs/A/ANR-2031/ANR-2031.pdf; or http://www.aces.edu/pubs/docs/A/ANR-2283/ANR-2283.pdf.
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