Garden Bugs: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

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Garden Insects

Hundreds of great, hardworking insects live in our gardens. Their jobs range from eating the bad bugs and pollinating flowers to improving the soil by helping decompose organic material.

Let’s take a look at the good, the bad and the ugly.

Many of those ugly bugs will become beautiful butterflies or moths, all of which go through a larval stage. The strange-looking larvae are eating machines, so please don’t kill them, despite their frightening appearance. The larva then pupates, forming a cocoon or chrysalis, and then emerges as a butterfly or moth.

Although only 3 percent of insects fall into this category, some bugs are actually bad for your backyard.

In addition to being an annoyance, mosquitoes can carry disease. Eliminate standing water, because even a small amount – the size of a soup bowl – will breed mosquitos. Invite purple martins, a type of bird that can eat 200 mosquitos a day (as do night-flying bats, another misunderstood creature). In fact, most of the birds you feed all winter will return the favor by eating hundreds of insects in your yard this summer.

Japanese beetles will harm your garden, so hand-pick them off plants or use a beetle bag or traps. Protect the prehistoric, evil-looking wheel bugs, as they eat Japanese beetles and other bugs.

Everyone knows red and black ladybugs love aphids, which are small, sap-sucking insects. A rectangular black and orange bug known as the soldier beetle is another important predator of aphids. These helpful beetles also consume nectar and pollen, becoming minor pollinators.

No aphid-eaters in sight? Spray the infested plant with a few strong blasts of water. Once aphids are knocked down to the ground, they can’t climb back up. A home remedy of 2 teaspoons mild dish soap mixed with water in a squirt bottle, sprayed weekly, causes the aphids to dehydrate by washing off their protective waxy coating.

Beneficial praying mantises emerge from egg cases in the spring. They then start eating other insects and quickly grow from a tiny size to a whopping 4 to 5 inches in late summer.

Spiders eat other harmful insects, so ignore your arachnophobia and allow them to protect your plants.

Some of the “bad” bugs don’t make it to adulthood – they’re killed by beneficial nematodes. In fact, beneficial nematodes control more than 250 different species of insects that spend some part of their lives underground, including grubs, fleas, mole crickets, Japanese beetles and weevils. They live in almost any soil but prefer moist conditions. You can purchase beneficial nematodes such as Steinernema and Heterorhabditis at your local garden center or online.

So when you’re in the garden this summer and you spot the “bad” bugs, see if you can also find the “good” bugs. It’s all part of nature’s plan to balance out the cycle.

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