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Beneficial Insects

tomato hornworm covered with pupae of parasitic wasps
This tomato hornworm is covered in the pupae of parasitic wasps, which will eventually kill the caterpillar.

Searcy, Ark. –

Many insects eat other insects and serve as a way to keep their populations in check.

Lady bugs consume huge quantities of aphids which would otherwise munch the leaves of vegetable crops. Parasitic flies lay their eggs on tomato hornworms that would decimate our prized tomato plants. Lacewings, praying mantises, and spiders are also common insects that view the pests in our garden as an all-you-can-eat buffet. They are part of the circle of life and their presence creates balance in population sizes.

How can you make sure your garden makes a good home for these hard-working insects?

Just like people, insects want to spend time in a safe and welcoming environment.

To make sure your garden is hospitable for beneficial insects:

  • Avoid pesticides. Don't use any pesticides (organic or chemical). Although some target specific pests, many will harm both problem and beneficial insects.

  • Use diverse plant materials. Make sure your landscape includes plants the beneficial insects need for food. Although many will prey on other insects, they may also need nectar and pollen for a well-balanced diet in different stages of their lives. You can usually achieve that by planting a diversity of plant species and plants native to your area. Many are attracted to plants in the cabbage, carrot, and sunflower families. Examples of beneficial insect-attracting plants are bee balm, borage, broccoli, buckwheat, calendula, candy tuft, chervil, chives, cilantro, clover, daisy, dill, fennel, goldenrod, mint, parsley, Queen Anne's lace, sunflower, sweet alyssum, tansy, thyme, and yarrow.

  • Provide a source of water. Even beneficials need to quench their thirst. Shallow pools of water in filled with perching stones or gravel can meet their needs.

  • Give them some shelter. Let an area of your garden or green space go “wild.” A wooded area or hedgerow 10' to 20' north of the garden is ideal, but even a small undisturbed area will give beneficials a place to shelter and nest. You can also just leave a little lawn — turfgrass is home to certain beneficial insects.

By Sherri Sanders
County Extension Agent - Agriculture
The Cooperative Extension Service
U of A System Division of Agriculture

Media Contact: Sherri Sanders
County Extension Agent - Agriculture
U of A Division of Agriculture
Cooperative Extension Service
2400 Old Searcy Landing Road Searcy AR 72143
(501) 268-5394

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