From the Garden: Beneficial Insects

By Erin McKenna Breglia

The days grow longer in sun­light, and spring returns to Lan­dis. We already wit­nessed our Chi­nese witch hazel (Hamamells mol­lis) bloom on Feb­ru­ary 10th, the ear­li­est yet. We await the spring flow­er­ing bulbs which will soon car­pet the Van Love­land peren­ni­al beds, fol­lowed by the love­ly flow­er­ing trees. And our thoughts turn to gardens.

Luna moth
Luna moth

Although these signs of spring may inspire the gar­den­er to rake the leaf lit­ter and clean up last year’s plant debris, it is best to wait until day­time tem­per­a­tures are con­sis­tent­ly 50 degrees F and above. Many ben­e­fi­cial insects, includ­ing sev­er­al bees, moths (such as the Luna moth) and but­ter­flies (such as swal­low­tails), over­win­ter in dead plant mate­r­i­al. By remov­ing the plant debris before they emerge, you risk destroy­ing them. 

These insects offer an array of ben­e­fits, includ­ing break­ing down organ­ic mat­ter and pol­li­nat­ing. They can also be preda­tors of prob­lem insects such as aphids. We often think of the but­ter­fly species as the main ben­e­fi­cial we want to see, but there are sev­er­al oth­er less showy insects that fre­quent our gar­dens. These include Syr­phid flies and beetles.

Syrphid fly
Syr­phid fly

Syr­phid flies, bee look-a-likes” (also referred to as flower flies) are seen in the gar­den through the sum­mer months. In the lar­val stage, one insect can devour hun­dreds of aphids. Lar­vae also feast on mealy bug, thrips, and the occa­sion­al small cater­pil­lar. Adult Syr­phid flies serve as major pol­li­na­tors, enjoy­ing the nec­tar and pollen of wild car­rot or Queen Anne’s lace, wild mus­tard, sweet alyssum, corian­der, dill, and oth­er small-flow­ered herbs.

Tiger beetle
Tiger bee­tle

Tiger, sol­dier, and ground bee­tles are also use­ful insects to have in the gar­den. They hide under rocks, leaves, and debris dur­ing the day and come out at night to eat. They espe­cial­ly love to devour slugs and snails, a major pest in both veg­etable and flower gar­dens. Also on their menu is the non-native spongy moth, which can dev­as­tate the foliage of many tree species. 

There are sev­er­al oth­er help­ful insects that thrive in our region: lacewings, wasps, bees, lady­bugs – and spi­ders too! To attract all of these crit­ters to your gar­den and to keep them con­tent and busy, a native plant habi­tat is required to pro­vide pollen, nec­tar, and a home envi­ron­ment.” Ben­e­fi­cial insects need water, places to lay eggs, and shel­ter from the ele­ments. Some also need a place to hiber­nate and overwinter. 

So resist that temp­ta­tion to tidy things up in the gar­den this spring. Learn to appre­ci­ate the hid­den insect life that will ben­e­fit your garden.

Spring 2023

Volume 41 , Number 1

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