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Beneficial insects keep harmful pests away from garden

POSTED: March 21, 2014 1:00 a.m.

Homeowners are eagerly awaiting spring weather to get outside to plant and maintain their gardens.

As warm weather approaches, insects — both harmless and harmful — will return as well and make their homes in our garden areas.

Be aware of which insects are good and bad. It does make a difference in the overall health of your garden.

What is a beneficial insect? Beneficials are predators of the bad insects and keep the harmful insect populations down.

Beneficial insects date back to the 4th century AD. Insect predators feed directly on their prey, killing them immediately. Other insects parasitize their enemies by depositing eggs on or in them, leading to the host’s eventually death.

Several beneficial insects occur naturally in the landscape. Learning to identify and consider their purpose can be important when planning and maintaining your garden. So, let nature do its job and use natural and biological controls as much as possible.

To attract and keep beneficial insects in your yard:

* Find alternative sources of food. These insects feed on pollen nectar and plant juices to supplement their diet and will be attracted to daisies, yarrow and goldenrod.

* Provide shelter where they can establish a habitat away from mowing and tilling. Perennial flower beds (especially pollen and nectar producing plants), vegetable gardens, hedges and borders provide excellent protection. Compost and mulch covers, as well as rocks can also provide a stable habitat.

* Water sources such as birdbaths or small shallow containers will provide hydration for the insects during dry weather. Change the water every few days to discourage mosquitoes. Put a few sticks or rocks in the container where they can perch.

Incorporating natural enemies and other pest management strategies might be a good alternative for your pest problems because beneficial insects will not solve all of them. Choose products targeting specific pests.

For example, try a product called B.t., which is a strain of bacterium that attacks caterpillars, beetle larvae and various kinds of flies. A second choice would be materials that act as a stomach poison such as a sabadilla dust. Insecticidal soaps and horticultural oils are less toxic alternatives and are unlikely to devastate populations of beneficials.

Botanical insecticides like bifenthrin or pyrethrin (chrysanthemum based products) are also good choices. Be specific and deliberate with the use of insecticides on a target plant or plants in an area.

Limit overall area spraying or dusting. Always try to spray on the specific foliage of the affected plant. Keep insecticides off of the bloom or flower, because this is where the pollinators will go for nectar and food.

Allowing natural insect predators to keep harmful populations of bad insects at a minimum is an effective and natural way to keep insect pests at bay.

Call the extension office for a complete list of beneficial insects.

Wanda Cannon serves as Master Gardener coordinator and horticulture assistant for the UGA Cooperative Extension office in Hall County. Contact her at 770-535-8293 or wcannon@hallcounty.org. Her column appears biweekly and on gainesvilletimes.com/life.


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