Garden Bugs: How to Attract the Welcome Visitors and Keep Away the Pests

There is nothing quite so disappointing than spending hours tending to your plants only to find you have unwelcome visitors eating your greens or spoiling your sprouts. While you may want to banish all bugs, by encouraging the right bugs to call your garden beds home you can manage the pesky pests and protect your harvest.

Similar to the diagrams of the food chain cycles from your childhood science class, plants use sunlight and water to grow, pests eat the plants, predators eat the pests and so on. Every garden, small or large, is a mini-ecosystem of its own. When problematic bugs start to damage your plants, this is an indicator that your little garden ecosystem does not have a balance of predators and pests to keep infestations of the bad bugs under control.

By providing the right environment, you can attract the bugs and animals needed to keep your garden in full bloom. So who are you inviting to set up camp among your cauliflower? Toads, bats, birds, spiders and dragonflies to name a few.

The first step to welcoming these hungry helpers is to stop using broad-spectrum pesticides on your plants or if possible, stop using any pesticides at all. A broad-spectrum pesticide will rid you of the good bugs just as quickly as it removes the bad. Your goal in creating your bug ecosystem is to invite more bugs into your garden, not remove them completely. If a problematic outbreaks occurs and you need to deal with it quickly, choose your products carefully. Look for a pesticide that targets the specific bug that is causing the issues, rather then one that removes everything in its path. Choosing a pesticide that degrades quickly will lessen the impact on your beneficial insects’ life cycle. Botanical insecticides, oils and soaps will help get most breakouts under control without causing unnecessary damage.

To help attract the bugs and animals you need, choose plants that encourage them to visit and place them alongside your other plants. In your vegetable garden include plants from the carrot, mustard and legume families including green beans, lima beans, chickpeas, lentils, carrots, celery, cumin, fennel, parsley, broccoli, cauliflower and kale to name a few. In your flower beds include plants from the aster and verbena families including asters, marigolds and blue vervain. You might also consider planting an insectary next to your existing garden, filled with the plants that your foe-fighting bugs will want to make a home of.

Not only will attracting new friends to your garden keep the pests under control, many are already welcome visitors in your backyard as they add beauty and interest to your garden.

  • Lady bugs eat a wide range of destructive bugs, and they eat a lot of them. They will eat up to 50 aphids a day. While they are cleaning out your garden, they are also laying eggs, providing the next generation of pest clearing helpers. You can encourage ladybugs to make a home amongst your plants by releasing and relocating ladybugs into your garden beds. 

  • Praying Mantis are incredibly beneficial to gardeners who need help controlling pests. They eat just about anything they can catch and always provide an interesting sight when found in the yard. 

  • Dragonflies eat mosquito larvae as soon as they hatch and once they take flight catch adult mosquitoes and moths for their dinner.

  • Toads will feast on all kinds of insects and can often be found passing through flower beds. Consider creating a place they’ll call home by providing a source of water and your own DIY toad house. 

After your first season of creating a bug-balanced ecosystem in your garden, you’ll want to make sure you give your new guests a leg up for next year. When fall comes and the last of your blooms or vegetables are gone, don’t clear the debris from your garden. Rather, let the leaves, stalks and pods stay over the winter as many of your beneficial insects will spend the winter in this leaf litter.  Wait to clear your beds until after spring has arrived and the insects have had a chance to come out from their hibernation.