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Think all bugs are bad? Not these bugs!
Some of us may feel that insects, in general, are a nuisance in our landscapes. There are certainly a few that we would rather not attack our trees. However, did you know there are many insects that are friend rather than foe in our landscapes? In fact, the vast majority of insects fall into the “beneficial” category. Each has a role to play in our ecosystem. Utilizing these valuable creatures is a great way to harness nature to do some of the work for you by controlling some of the most problematic garden pests.
Because of our concern for the environment as a whole, we follow an approach to pest control called Integrated Pest Management (IPM), where the most benign treatment is used first in effort to preserve the health of all the living things in the vicinity. Thoughtlessly or incorrectly using harsh pesticides to lay waste to all bugs in the area can create a gap in the food chain, which leaves birds and other animals with nothing to sustain their populations. Careful observation is crucial when using a more amiable approach, since spotting problems in the early stages makes the less harmful treatments much more effective. This is one of many reasons we recommend regular inspections of your trees each year.
Which insects are helpful?
The most well known and widely available is the ladybug (Hippodamia convergens). These polka dotted cuties are voracious aphid eaters in both adult and larval stages. They also help control scale as well as mites and other soft-bodied pests.
The descriptive name Green Lacewing (Chrysoperla rufilabris) provides a good hint to how these beautiful insects look, but what is not so obvious is how helpful they can be in the garden. The pretty adults feed on nectar, pollen and honeydew deposited by aphids. Their larvae, however are the predators that feed on immature stages of numerous pests like spider mites, whitefly, thrips and more. When you provide nectar sources for the adults, they will stick around and lay eggs to begin the next generation of helpers.
Trichogramma wasps (Trichogramma pretiosum) are tiny gnat sized insects that are excellent at controlling many species of leaf-eating moth and butterfly caterpillars like webworms, bagworms or borers that might be attacking your trees. These barely visible parasitic creatures work by inserting their eggs into the eggs of the undesirable pest, killing them before they reach the plant feeding stage.
The fascinating Praying Mantis is patient and fearless enough to devour just about any other insect so they are a handy patrol to send out when you’ve got a serious problem with another critter. Be aware that they also eat other beneficial insects, so keep this in mind and use these tough guys sparingly.
Interesting Fact: The Carolina mantis (Stagmomantis carolina), is an American native. Chinese mantis (Tenodera aridifolia sinensis) and the common European mantis (Mantis religiosa) were both introduced for insect control.
Encouraging beneficial insects in your landscape can help to naturally control destructive pests without the need for toxic pesticides. This more gentle method keeps our plants healthy with a lesser negative impact on the environment.