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What’s Growing On: Helpful insects living in gardens

Published: Jul. 15, 2021 at 6:00 PM EDT
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. (WCJB) -Gardeners may panic when finding holes in leaves, or little bugs crawling all over their beloved plants, but an entomologist with IFAS says most insects are helpful instead of harmful.

Dr. Jaret Daniels is an entomologist who specializes in insect conservation. He said from pollination to their own fecal matter, insects are important for healthy, sustainable gardens.

Some insects like aphids, however, can be a problem for some plants. Daniels advises consistent check-ups on gardens to catch pest problems early, but even then he says not to break out the ‘nuclear weapons’ on any bug that crawls.

Daniels said using a broad spectrum approach with pesticides can actually worsen pest problems. He says using a broad spectrum approach with pesticides can deplete the population of helpful bugs, who are natural predators to most harmful insects in gardens.

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“That’ll knock out the beneficial insects along with the bad bugs. And so it’s kind of taking down your natural pest control. And that’s going to cause the pest problem to get worse and worse and worse,” Daniels explained.

Bugs like praying mantises, ladybugs, and assassin bugs are natural predators to harmful insects in an everyday garden and are experts when it comes to pest control.

If you must use any insecticides, Daniels recommends doing it in small portions.

“Start locally. Start with, say, insecticidal soap or horticultural oil, and always treat the pest problem as locally as possible,” Daniels said.

If you’re lacking some helpful creepy crawlers, Daniels said it doesn’t take much to attract them.

“One good way of encouraging beneficial insects into your yard is diversifying your landscape, creating more plant diversity, planting a lot of blooming plants,” Daniels explained.

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Rosemary, thyme, black-eyed susan, and helianthus are just a few plants that can increase beneficial insect numbers in your garden.

So the next time you find bugs living among your green space, Daniels said to check a field guide before breaking out any chemicals.

He has a book available for purchase that is specifically focused on gardening with beneficial insects in the Southeast called “Native Plant Gardening for Birds, Bees, and Butterflies”. You can find it online or in the IFAS bookstore with the rest of his various books and field guides.

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