It’s important to understand and identify predator insects and how you can encourage them into your garden through planting. If you can give mother nature a hand, she will return the favour. Predatory insects don’t eat your plants. Instead, they set about eating your pests. Sounds gruesome I know, but it’s nature at its finest. Let’s start by taking a look at our top 6 beneficial insects in Australia.
Ladybirds (also known as Ladybeetles & Ladybugs) eat aphids, scale & mites. Their bright colours are used as a warning for predators, and they excrete a yellow liquid when they are scared that doesn’t taste good to a predator! There are a few common varieties of ladybirds including the more common orange with black spots. This is the one that loves aphids, scale & mites, a very welcomed guest!
The next one is the mealybug ladybird, and you can guess what they eat. Then you have the fungus eating ladybird, who helps control black & yellow discoloration on plants by eating the mildew fungus. There is one traitor amongst the common ladybirds, and it’s the 28 spotted ladybird. This lady is up to 1cm in length and is light orange with you guessed it, 28 spots on her back. She’s a leaf eater! You may find her on your cabbage, potato or beans. The best way to deal with her is to pick her off.
Lacewings larvae eat aphids, mites, whiteflies, small caterpillars, as well as moth eggs and sometimes mealybug if desperate. They are sometimes called ‘aphid lions’ because of their lack of table manners.
3. Parasitic wasp
Parasitic Wasps lay eggs inside or on living aphids, caterpillars, beetles, scale, and flies! Not the most humane of treatments, however, wasps are a very vital part of the biological process in the garden. Parasitic wasps deposit their eggs inside an adult or larval insect and when the eggs hatch, the offspring will feed on the host insect resulting in the host’s slow death.
4. Praying mantis
Praying Mantis eats aphids, leafhoppers, mosquitoes, caterpillars, and other soft-bodied insects when young. Later they will eat larger insects, beetles, grasshoppers, crickets, and other pest insects.
Hoverflies lay their eggs near aphids. It’s the larvae of the hover-flies which are important predators of pests, such as aphids, scales, thrips, and caterpillars. Once the larvae hatch they feast on the bugs. Hoverflies are known as the helicopters of the insect world and are also important pollinators.
Bees are so awesome and whilst they don’t attack insects, bees are so beneficial to your veggie patch that I had to include them. If you don’t have bees, your flowers won’t open and your veggies won’t grow. They are a fundamental inclusion to a veggie patch and by planting flowers that attract bees the produce will flow.
Attracting predatory/beneficial insects in Australia
When planting to attract predatory insects, look for flowers that have an umbrella type flower head. These can be found in the carrot family, and include plants like parsley and dill (plants with more of a flat head), and spring onions, chives, and garlic (plants with more of a round flower). Insects are attracted to the silhouette of these plants, as it signals a guaranteed source of both pollen & nectar. The insects also see this type of flower as an easy landing pad.
Some additional plants to consider include:
- Coriander – attracts a large variety of insects
- Queen Anne – compact ornamental that attracts predators
- Giant Flat Leafed Italian Parsley – that has a huge amount of flowers, and flowers for most of the year, plus it has lots of nectar for wasps
- Bronze Fennel – has lots of flowers to attract predators
Plants from the mint family also have amazing flowers that produce nectar, attracting a wide range of beneficial insects into your patch. Creating an insect-friendly habitat is also a great way of keeping the insects around on more of a full-time basis. Why not make your own insect hotel?
Things to remember when planting to attract beneficial or predator insects
1. Provide pollen to supply them with energy to work
2. Supply cover to lay eggs
3. Ensure you have a range of plants that provide flowers all year round
Why not create a bug hotel and have fun with the kids creating a home for your visitors.
You can include certain plants in your veggie garden that will attract beneficial insects that are needed to pollinate our crops, and honey bees are the most valuable in performing this process.
Many flowers are great for attracting pollinators, including the plants that belong to the daisy family. These flowers provide more bang for your buck in terms of pollen. They are what’s known as Compositae, which means they are made up of many flowers, not just one. You’ll find they are also big seed producers and often self-seed in other parts of your garden. Some examples of plants from the daisy family that could be used in a veggie garden to attract pollinators include:
- Golden Rod – which provides flowers for pollen and lots of covers for the insects to lay eggs
- Cosmos – provides lots of pollen to bring in hoverflies
- Sunflowers – during spring & summer plant sunflower seeds in your patch to attract the bees, birds & insects. They just can’t resist!