They might be ugly, but they're the good guys

August 22, 2004|by ANDREA ROWLAND

Chemical pesticides might kill target insects, but they also can destroy bad bugs' natural enemies, pollute the environment and threaten human health. Garden pests also can develop resistance to frequently used insecticides, according to information from the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension Service.

Bees, butterflies, spiders and ladybugs are all natural enemies to garden pests. Birds, toads, snakes and earthworms also help control garden pests.

They eat the bad bugs.

Gardeners can adopt a few simple strategies to attract more beneficial insects and other creatures to their gardens, including the following recommendations from the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension's Home & Garden Information Center:

  • Use straw mulch to attract spiders.

  • Leave shallow, open basins of water on the ground in the shade for birds, toads, frogs, turtles, snakes, spiders and beneficial insects.

  • Reduce pesticide use.

  • Provide pollen and nectar sources for adult beneficial insects by growing a variety of annual and perennial flowers so that some plants always are blooming during the growing season.

  • Consider the following plants to attract and feed good bugs: carrot, yarrow, Queen Anne's lace, dill, anise, fennel, coriander, parsley, zinnia, marigold, aster, daisy, mum, coneflower, coreopsis, mint, thyme, sage, oregano, bee balm, basil, salvia, wallflowers, nasturtiums and poppies.

    Borage is a magnet for super-beneficial bees, according to information from Franklin County Cooperative Extension in Chambersburg, Pa. Other examples include:

  • Sweet alyssum planted under broccoli or among potatoes will attract beneficial insects.

  • Marigolds, basil, artemesia and other strong-scented plants confuse pests.

  • Dahlias repel some soil pests.

  • Nasturtiums deter pests that attack the cucumber family.

Natural shortages of beneficial insects also can be remedied by buying good bugs from garden or seed catalogues, Internet companies and some retail gardening centers.

"I know people who actually send away for these bugs," said Colleen Newell of Hagerstown, a member of Frederick County (Md.) Master Gardeners.

Franklin County Cooperative Extension gives the following tips for using beneficial insects:

  • If you're transplanting good bugs to your garden, release them in small batches throughout the garden.

  • Release the bugs in early morning or evening, just after watering, to help keep the insects in the garden.

  • Give beneficial insects time to work their magic. Check on plants at least once a week to gauge progress.
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