While much of what we do as organic gardeners focus on watching out for "bad" bugs—those pesky ones who eat our plants and spread diseases—it is just as important to know which bugs we should be welcoming into our gardens. These beneficial insects pollinate our plants and are more effective than we could ever hope to be at keeping insect pests under control. There are many beneficial insects, and the five featured here are easily recognizable and common in most gardens. If you see them hanging around, you're doing something right!
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If you're growing vegetables, you need bees. Crops such as melons, pumpkins and other squashes, apples and other tree fruit and many others are pollinated by bees. In fact, one out of every three bites of our food, including fruit, vegetables, chocolate, coffee, nuts, and spices, relies on pollinators. Without plenty of these helpful insects buzzing around your garden, you'd have to be sure to hand-pollinate.
How to Attract Bees
Plant a variety of flowering plants for continuous bloom and nectar sources all season long. Leave some of your soil un-mulched to attract ground bees. Have a shallow water source, such as a saucer or mud puddle available for the bees. Leave a dead tree standing, if at all possible. Mason bees may make their home there. Adding a honeybee hive near your garden is a great way to ensure pollination, plus it is a fun--and tasty--hobby.
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Lacewing larvae are voracious predators. They feed on aphids, small cabbage worms, other caterpillars and their eggs, mealybugs, and whiteflies. Adults eat honeydew produces by aphids. nectar, pollen, and some adult species eat other insects.
How to Attract Lacewings
The most important thing to do to attract lacewings is to avoid pesticides. The larva will take care of pests, if you practice patience. If you get rid of all the aphids with pesticides, lacewings have nothing to eat--plus, you may kill the beneficial insects as well. If you haven't seen many lacewings around, you can order lacewing larvae either online or from some nurseries.
To attract them (and make them want to stay a while) plant diverse flowers throughout your garden, like yarrow, dill, angelica, golden marguerite, coriander, cosmos, fennel, prairie sunflower, and tansy.
03 of 05
Your first reaction upon seeing a big black ground beetle might be to squish it—don't do it! They are great partners to have in your garden. With more than 2,500 types of ground beetles, ranging in size from 1/8 to 1-1/2-inches long, you're sure to find some of these beneficial bugs in your garden. Because they're nocturnal (digging down into mulch and other organic matter during the day) they're great at keeping those night-time pests under control.
Slugs, snails, and cutworms are just three of the more than fifty types of pests the ground beetle hunts. Some even eat weed seeds. You'll want plenty of these in your garden!
How to Attract Ground Beetles
Because they make their homes in decaying plant matter (and lay their eggs there, as well) you'll want to mulch your garden well, all year long. Perennials provide a good place for them to overwinter as well, but if you don't have perennials in part of your garden (such as in a veggie garden) then just be sure to mulch for the winter. Lay flat stones or boards in the garden--they make a safe place for the beetles to rest underneath. Clover and bushy amaranth also provide good cover. If you don't see ground beetles in your garden, look for a rotting log--you're sure to find some to transfer to your garden.
04 of 05
Soldier beetle larvae are rather mercenary in their dietary preferences; they're just as likely to hunt the good bugs as they are the bad bugs. Larvae feed on insect eggs and larvae of beetles, grasshoppers, moths, and other insects. Adults may eat soft-bodied insects like aphids, but they mainly dine on flower nectar and pollen. Because adults spend much time flitting about flowers, they're excellent pollinators.
How to Attract Soldier Beetles
Soldier beetles are attracted to yellow flowers, like goldenrod, members of the daisy family, single-flowered marigolds, as well as native trees and shrubs.Continue to 5 of 5 below.
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Lady beetles (ladybugs) are probably the first thing that comes into most people's minds when they hear the term "beneficial insect," and with good reason. While the adults eat a fair share of aphids, mealybugs, and mites, it's their larvae (pictured) that are the true heroes. The larvae look like "bad bugs," at first glance: black and red, like miniature alligators making their way through your garden. But they have voracious appetites and can get an aphid or mite infestation under control in no time.
How to Attract Lady Beetles
Lady beetles are attracted to members of the parsley family: think carrots, parsley, dill, fennel, and yarrow.
The best way to be sure that you're attracting beneficial bugs to your garden is to follow basic organic gardening practices: mulching, diversifying your planting and not spraying chemicals. Do these three things, and chances are good that you'll have plenty of good bugs calling your garden "home."
The value of birds and bees. (2020, June 22). Farmers.Gov. https://www.farmers.gov/blog/conservation/value-birds-and-bees
“Attracting Beneficial Insects.” Penn State Extension,