We've been putting a bit of extra effort into learning about what insects are beneficial in our garden. Not only which insects, but why and how we can attract more of them. It started off with a passion to help our bees and butterflies when I noticed a real lack of them around our area a couple of summers ago. It's grown from there as I've learnt more about natural predators as well. This year I'm most interested in who wants psyllids on their lunch menu haha.
Luke has a genuine interest in exploring the garden for minibeasts and wants to know which ones are helpful. He loved drawing them all in his garden diary too. There's a lot of excitement when he sees a bee or ladybird in the garden at the moment. He's also worked out quickly that our Monarch butterflies are helpful, but that white butterflies are a right pain in the garden! haha
Here are some bits and pieces we've learnt along the way.
Helpful Insects in the Garden
Insects such as bees and butterflies make great pollinators in the garden. Other insects such as spiders, most ladybirds, hoverflies, praying mantis, ground beetles, lacewings, and parasitic wasps are great at natural pest control.
We've got quite a few aphids in our garden so the fact that a single ladybird can eat up to 5000 aphids in its lifetime makes me quite interested in attracting more to our backyard. Interestingly, it's the larvae that consume the most aphids. Blue Steel ladybirds take more of a liking to scale insects. Ladybirds also eat a range of small insects, including some evidence of psyllid eating!
Tamarixia (a parasitic wasp) seems to be a popular choice for psyllid control. BioForce sell 100 of these little guys live for $30 a pop. Tamarixia specialises in parasitising the psyllids. Apparently their prey will start turning golden after 7 days if the temp is at an average of 26C or slightly longer for lower temperatures. Very tempting to buy an army of these guys and see what (if anything) would happen.
Attracting Beneficial Insects to the Garden
Bees - Plant flowers that are single, with open petals. Bees generally opt for flowers with flat shapes or clusters of tiny flowers over double, ruffled flowers. They also seem to have a special liking to flowers that are coloured blue, purple, violet, white or yellow.
Here is a small list of suggestions I've complied along the way -
Annuals - Calendula, Marigold, Sunflowers, Poppies, Cosmos, Hollyhocks, Foxgloves, Echium, Clover, and Nasturtiums.
Perennials - Comfrey, Dahlias, Echinacea, Geraniums, Aquilegia, Gladiolus
Herbs - Bee Balm, Borage, Coriander, Rosemary, Thyme
Fruit/Veg - Blackberry, Cucumber, Pumpkin, Courgette
Hoverflies, Lacewings, and Parasitic Wasps - all of these guys love the following flowers/herbs as nectar sources: Phacelia, Bergamot, Alyssum, Borage, Coriander, Bishops Flower, Anise Hyssop.
Butterflies - Swan Plants are the obvious choice to plant through the garden for butterfly food. Butterflies also love flowers with easy access for nectar sipping e.g. Gaillardia, Fennel, and Parsley. Butterfly Flower, Enchinacea, Aster, and Marigold are also popular. Butterflies enjoy a wide range of colour so scattering a packet of wildflower seeds in a sunny spot is another good option. Plan a range of flowers to cover your bases from early spring to late autumn so there is food available throughout the growing season.
Ladybirds - Newly developed ladybirds will eat nectar/pollen as well as those other pesky insects so it's worth considering planting flowers to attract them too. Umbrella shaped flowers are popular, as are Angelica, Alyssum, Calendula, Coreopsis, Cosmos, Coriander, Dill, Fennel, and Tansy. The herbs need to go to flower.
I'm pleased these guys like Coriander because it's possibly the only use it would have at our house. I'm not a fan at all personally haha. Providing a water source during the warmer months is a helpful idea too. Something like a bird bath or shallow dish with stones to rest on.
We've scattered two packets of Yates Bee Pasture Mix and one packet of Yates Wildflower Meadow Mix throughout the gardens. I've got a large garden area out the front of the house so I'm hoping these will help to fill some space up there too. I also scattered the wildflower blend through our bee and butterfly gardens in the backyard to see what pops up. The only problem is now I don't know if it's new weeds popping up or the flowers so no pulling anything out for a little while until we can tell.
Our next steps are to get creative with some water dishes for our little mates and also pull out the old bug hotel frame and do it up. I love how there's always something new to learn and get stuck into with the garden. I hope everyone had a good weekend and made the most of the sunshine. We were lucky in Northland with two beautiful days. Lots of time spent at the beach instead of weeding ;)
Photos of Luke's helpful minibeasts in his diary, a ladybird spotted on his Sugar and Spice Marigolds we grew from seed, and the Yates seeds that have been our go to for attracting beneficial bugs & butterflies.