The Good, the Bad, & the Ghastly
I’m glad I’m not a bug. It’s a cruel world out there. Margaret Miley, “The Bug Lady”
In the air, on the leaves, under the bark and throughout the soil–your garden is a riot of insect life locked in a ruthless game of survival. The casual mayhem of the insect world makes “Grand Theft Auto” look like “FarmVille”.
On one side are the “bad” bugs. They feed on your garden plants. Then there are “good” bugs that eat other bugs. Surrounds Garden Care specialist Margaret Miley (a.k.a. The Bug Lady) says there are many insects that are good for your garden; and just because it looks creepy doesn’t mean you should squash it.
Since there are so many insects, we are going to stick to the most common and easy to identify ones. And, we’ll discuss them in two separate blog posts. Part One (this part) will focus on beneficial bugs and Part Two on the garden pests. If you’d like to skip to the article about “bad” bugs, scroll to the bottom of this page and click on “Knowing Insect Friend from Foe.”
Good bugs eat the pest bugs that eat your garden
These common Northern Virginia insects help care for your garden by keeping the numbers of destructive insects in check. So, take care before you slap, swat or stomp. Look but don’t touch. Leave them to their work.
Assassin Bug is a great example of a creepy looking bug that is harmless to you (if you leave it alone) and good for your garden. It subdues its prey in a particularly inventive -albeit ghastly- manner. Like a movie hit man, the assassin bug is equipped with a specialty killing tool. Projecting from its head is a long skewer (the entomological term is “rostrum) that is part suction tube and part syringe. It injects venom that immobilizes its victim then liquefies the insides—which it then sucks out!
Praying Mantis is an all around indiscriminate predator. You would not guess by looking at it, but the swizzle stick thin mantis is a voracious eater. It uses those “praying” hands to pin its victim down, then shreds it alive with its powerful mouth. Horrible as this sounds, the mantis’ appetite is of great benefit to your garden.
Ladybug. Everybody loves ladybugs. Both the adult and larvae eat other insects that we don’t care to have around our gardens. Ladybugs are especially fond of the aphids that like to wreck your Myrtle trees.
Lacewing Fly. Unmistakable with its long, translucent wings Adults feed only on nectar, pollen, and aphid honeydew, but the larvae are active predators that eat the eggs and immature stages of many insect pests including aphids, spider mites and mealybugs.
A sure sign that Lacewings are on duty in your garden is to see its distinctive strands of eggs. It lays its eggs on long threads that seem to sprout from a leaf so that predators can’t eat them.
Parasitic Wasp. Remember the space horror movie “Alien”? The Alien used human beings as live hosts for its young. Well, these tiny wasps lay their eggs in the body of another insect. When the eggs hatch, the wasp larvae eat their way out of host insect. Farmers in California use them in controlled environments to keep aphid populations in check.
Bacterium, fungus and nematodes. These micro-organisms live in the soil and help to keep the pest population at acceptable levels. You can buy bacterium to add to your soil. In some situations this is a good strategy for building up the population of good bacterium and avoid using a pesticide.
An Uneasy Alliance
Obviously, the “good” bugs aren’t actually good–or nice. Let’s face it, they’re killers who like the taste of other insects. It just so happens that their appetites work to the advantage of our garden plants. To be fair, it is much the same in the world of mammals. The plant-eaters are prey for the meat eaters. So, we can at least agree that these somewhat unsavory predators are a benefit to our gardens and are an integral part of the system.
If you notice that some of your plants or trees aren’t looking well, it is possible there aren’t enough helpful insects in the yard to offset the activities of the plant eating ones. Part Two of this article: Knowing Insect Friend From Foe will help you identify the signs of pest insect activity in your garden.
The easiest way to deal with pest problems in the garden is to prevent them. And a comprehensive garden management program that includes scheduled landscape maintenance and horticultural inspections is the best way to accomplish that. If you would like to get some definite answers and a plan of action (if necessary), feel free to contact one of our garden care specialists. We would be happy to walk the grounds with you and give you actionable recommendations to maintain or improve the health of your garden plants and trees.