Do You Really Need to Buy Beneficial Insects?


LAST JULY, FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER, I found a tomato hornworm impregnated by a parasitic wasp in my garden. I found it on my brandywine tomato plant and left it there so the braconid wasps could develop.

It was no coincidence that I found it when I did. Early last year, I decided to let the south side hill by the garden go un-mowed. The dirt on the hill was eroding and I thought it would be best to let the weeds grow to better hold the soil. I also planted wildflowers to attract beneficial insects and make it look attractive. The plan was to cut it back in the late fall to avoid having trees grow so near to the house.

To my surprise, it attracted far more beneficial bugs than I expected, including the wasp that found the hornworm. But it wasn’t because I purchased and seeded wildflowers. It was because the native wildflowers flourished. Queen Anne’s lace, milkweed, yarrow, daisy fleabane, goldenrod, New England aster and others all did reasonably well in the poor soil on the hill.

Ladybugs, tachinid flies, lacewings and parasitic wasps

It was the native plants that attracted a very wide variety of pollinators – many bee types I didn’t know existed – as well as many predators including ladybugs, tachinid flies, lacewings,  and a variety of parasitic wasps.  

The hill became a hot bed of insect activity. There seemed to be thousands of predators, prey and pollinators even though there were few if any before the weeds sprung up. For me it was fascinating watching all the different insects go about their business. I was especially pleased when, for example, I saw a ladybug larva munching on some aphids or a lacewing flying away with a helpless bug.

Here’s a YouTube video that someone else produced that shows a hornworm with paracitic wasps about to emerge.

A good book to help you identify good and bad bugs in your garden is Rodale’s Insect, Disease & Weed I.D. Guide: Find-It-Fast Organic Solutions for Your Garden. If you buy it using this Amazon link, I make a small amount of money, which helps me continue to publish Suburban Hobby Farmer.

Adding beneficials not the answer

Before this year, I was leaning towards buying beneficial insects, e.g., blue mason bees, to help with pollinating my apple trees and ladybugs to help with controlling aphids. Now I’ve realized that adding beneficial insects to the garden is not the answer. Beneficials were not missing from my garden. What I truly needed was to restore the balance in the environment by making sure that the proper habitat was available. I didn’t even need to buy seeds. The weed seeds were already there.

The beneficials I would have bought probably wouldn’t have stuck around anyway. Then again, maybe I’m just lucky to live in an almost rural part of Southern New Hampshire where there’s still a variety of insects living close by.

Do you have any great wildflowers that attract beneficial insects to your garden? Let us know by commenting below.

Related articles that might interest you:

1. Seven Eco-friendly Ideas for the Garden
2. Five Tips for Starting Seeds More Cheaply
3. Seven Money-saving Garden Tips
4. Guide to Four Rain Barrel Downspout Diverters

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8 Responses to “Do You Really Need to Buy Beneficial Insects?”

  1. Skipper Butler
    September 20, 2016 at 7:59 am #

    I can’t grow Zucchini, patty pan , and winter squashes because of the squash vine borer. I have tried everything to protect my plants from them with no success. I am considering buying Trichogramma
    Wasps throughout the summer months to participate the eggs they lay on my plants. I planted flowering plants to attract beneficial insects. It attracted some beneficial insects but none to help with the squash vine borer or squash bugs. I can’t find much help with this problem because for some reason the vine borer doesn’t cause problems for large commercial growers.

    • October 2, 2016 at 8:10 am #

      Hi Skipper — I feel your pain with squash vine borer. I’ve tried keeping the vines covered with tin foil. This seems to work, but if you have a lot of vines it can be difficult and time consuming. The only thing that has worked for me is to wait out the SVB and plant after July 4. My garden is in plant hardiness zone 5b, so there’s no second generation. Of course, this means that you get fewer zucchini.

      Please let us know if Trichogramma is of any help. SHF readers would be very interested to know if this strategy works.

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