Can other insects really control pests in the yard? Why yes, they can.
Chemical pest control isn’t always the right solution. It can be cost prohibitive if the infestation is large or damaging to environment, harming vital pollinators like bees.
One alternative is to introduce beneficial insects into the landscape, provided you create the right environment for them to thrive.
Separate out the pests
It’s not easy to look at an insect and decide if its a pest or a beneficial addition to the landscape. It may fall to you to educate your customers as to which insects help pollinate, act at decomposers or even consume harmful pests.
Some of the most beneficial lawn and garden insects include:
- Lady beetles
- Braconid wasps
- Green lacewings
- Ground beetles
- Praying mantises
- Soldier beetles
These beneficial insects pray on pests, keeping populations low when it comes to everything from mosquitos to aphids, lawn grubs to moths.
Beneficial insects, like all animals, need shelter. The best materials to use is either mulch or pine straw. When it comes to mulch, make sure you’re regularly replenishing it to ensure there are plenty of places for good insects to hide. Pine straw not only helps plants retain moisture and stay healthy, but it provides a warm space to hunker down over the winter.
The added value of using mulch is that it’s also beneficial to the landscape as a whole. It deters some invasive species of insects while also preventing weed growth. Cypress and cedar mulch, for example, release natural oils that repel insects like termites, cockroaches and even certain types of ants. Should a vegetable garden be part of the landscape, straw mulch is excellent at keeping certain types of insects, like cucumber beetles, away from certain types of vegetable plants. Straw mulch also helps reduce the spread of fungus, lowering the risk for plant rot.
Diversify the landscape
Attracting beneficial insects, while controlling pest populations, becomes easier when you can create a diversified landscape. Often, simpler landscapes, with limited plant selections, have a higher pest problem simply because of the lack of variety in plant life.
Diversification can come from differing plant species, but also plant sizes. This occurs because, the greater the variety, the more natural enemies to pest populations there are to keep infestations in check. Enough differentiation in the size of plants may also create a microclimate within the landscape space. This can give beneficial insects protection from harsh weather and their own natural enemies, making it easier to balance a population.
Additionally, certain flowering plants will serve as food for beneficial insects, keeping their populations strong. Beneficial insects like bees, lady beetles, hover flies and parasitic wasps maintain a strict diet of nectar and pollen. Including the right flowering plants within the landscape will not only feed the mature adults, but also the larvae of these beneficial insects. In the larval stage, pests that could harm these flowering plants are on the menu. Larvae dine on aphids, caterpillars, cutworms, trips, mites and more.
The best flowers for beneficial insects
When making suggestions for flowering plants that are especially attractive to beneficial insects, start with:
- Blanket Flower (Gaillardia spp.) - Annual/Perennial
- Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) – Perennial
- Tickseed (Coreopsis spp.) – Perennial
- Goldenrod (Solidago spp.) – Perennial
- Yarrow (Achillea spp.) – Perennial
- Milkweed (Asclepias spp.) – Perennial
- Joe-Pye Weed (Eutrochium spp.) – Perennial
- Hairy Beardtongue (Penstemon hirsutus) – Perennial
- Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) – Perennial
Many of these plants are available through the SiteOne nursery.
Avoid harming beneficial insects
After putting in so much time creating an ideal environment for beneficial insects to thrive, the last thing you want to do is accidentally harm these populations. This most often happens with the use of synthetic chemical insecticides. These products can wipe out entire populations of insect pests, along with beneficial insects, leaving plants at risk for future infestations.
Over-fertilization is also another way to damage the balance beneficial insects can bring to the landscape. Over-fertilization can cause those plants high in nitrogen to grow so quickly that pest populations get too large for beneficial insects to control, This is because plants high in nitrogen contain more nutrition. More food means more insects of every kind.
Should a pest outbreak occur that you need to address quickly that you need to manage yourself, try using botanical soaps or oils as a natural pest control solution. Targeting harmful insects with this type of insecticide won’t produce as many harmful side effects for the beneficial insects.
Maintaining healthy populations of beneficial insects has become a major topic because it impacts the entire ecosystem within a yard, garden or landscape. Insects and plants work together to cycle nutrients, pollinate plants and maintain the quality of the soil. When one half of this balanced system slips, it can create a larger impact that leads to damaged greenery, repairs and replanting and more. Helping the beneficial insects thrive, while still addressing those unwanted pests means less maintenance work and a healthier green space.
Create a landscape that will help care for itself
No matter how you shape a landscape to ensure beneficial insects thrive and harmful pests don’t, SiteOne can help meet all your supply needs. Our branch associates are available to answer any questions as well. Check us out today at SiteOne.com and on our mobile app.