Beneficial Insects vs Garden Pests

Springtime means blooming flowers, budding leaves, and warming weather. But it also means that the garden pests start to emerge. Japanese beetles are some of the worst garden bugs because they don’t have a specific type of plant they destroy. Aphids and other beetles also make the pest list. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to keep them in check and to make sure your garden looks healthy and happy with a balance of beneficial critters and plants.

Japanese beetles were first introduced to the western world early in the 1900s. It is thought they were imported from Japan in the soils of plants which were exported. They have since become a big problem here in America. Part of the problem is that they don’t need anything in particular to survive. They simply need any soil to lay eggs in and plants of all kinds to eat once they are hatched. They feast on over 200 different types of plants which makes it very hard to narrow down their food sources. Second, they are also fast breeders and therefore spawn faster than can be controlled. Knowing whether you have a Japanese beetle problem can be identified by the look of your plants and by spotting the bugs themselves. The damage they cause to plants can be easily identified because of the “skeletonized” look that foliage has after a swarm has passed through. The leaves are riddled with holes and only the veins are intact. They also lay eggs in the soil and, as the larvae hatch, they eat the roots of the plants, usually grass, causing them to die. Identifying these bugs is easy enough: they are small (about ½ an inch) with blue-ish green hairs, coppery backs, and beige wings. They also have white hairs near their legs. Their eggs develop into white grubs which lay underground from June through the winter. They immerge the next spring and begin eating the plants around them in hordes, the number of which also adds to the destruction they cause.

Another common garden pest is the aphid. These come in many colors from green to tan to black, but all are around 1/8 of an inch and have a pear shape to them. They cause problems because they enjoy feasting on sap and leave behind a sticky fluid as they go. This fluid encourages mold, attracts ants, and if you’ve ever left a car or patio furniture under a plant that has aphids, you’re familiar with the sticky stuff covering your things. The Colorado Potato Beetle and the Mexican Bean Beetle are two more insects that wreak havoc over plants in the garden. They eat through leaves and fruits of many different vegetable patch staples like tomatoes and beans.

There is good news, however! Ladybugs, praying mantis, and nematodes are some of the most beneficial insects to introduce to your yard. They prey on the pesky ones and stay in check and make everyone’s yards a nicer place to be. Their populations are also fairly easy to keep in check, in compared to their destructive counterparts.

Nematodes are roundworms that live in the soil. They do have some pest cousins but the ones you may purchase from us or online do have a positive impact in the garden. They are parasitic to insects that have a larva or pupal stage in the soil. The first thing they do is prey on the grubs of Japanese beetles. This helps to keep the beetle population down before it even happens and helps to keep lawns from being destroyed by the larvae. They also eat cutworms, which are known to eat through plants, too. Praying mantis then come in to help curb the population of the insects once they are above ground. They eat Japanese beetles, other pest beetles, crickets, moths, and grasshoppers. They tend to keep the insect world in check in general and are great little “pets” to realize in your yard.

And last but not least, ladybugs are great for keeping aphids at bay. Each one can eat thousands in their lifetime, so imagine what a small swarm could do. They also prey on mealybugs and spider mites, both of which can infest your properties. The only thing to watch for with ladybugs is that they do like to come into the house. But simply vacuuming and throwing them away will keep that in check, too.

There are also beneficial plants that can keep the pests away. For example, garlic and onions are great for keeping Japanese beetles at bay. Call us, comment below, or come in and ask us for more information about strategic plants for your garden pests.

This year make sure that these insects don’t undo all the careful gardening work you’ve done. With a little planning and foresight, you can strategically plant flowers and herbs and release ladybugs and praying mantis into your garden for a natural way to balance the pests with the beneficial bugs. The careful use of artificial pesticides is effective and long lasting, as well! At the end of the (gardening) day, just be sure your garden is how you want it and free of critters that you don’t want. Happy planting!

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