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By Trey Pitsenberger, co-owner Golden Gecko

Bugs in the garden aren’t necessarily a bad thing. Veteran gardeners love bugs (as long as they’re the good kind) because they know beneficial insects are an effective natural solution to garden pest problems.

If you are a little squeamish when it comes to insects, just remember they are easy to use and have many important side benefits. Using beneficial bugs doesn’t harm the environment or children and pets. Good bugs can also last a long time, so they are more cost-effective than pesticides. Bad bugs may build up a resistance to chemicals, but they’ll always be on the dinner menu of the good bugs.

Not only will beneficial insects take care of the pests in your garden, they can hop the fence and go after pests next door, creating a wider area of protection for your plants.

It is sometimes difficult to tell the good bugs from the bad ones. The aphid-loving syrphid fly (hover fly) and leather wing beetle are two good insects that gardeners bring to the garden center, thinking they are harmful to the garden.

There are two types of beneficial insects. Predators attack the pest directly and can eat many in a day. Parasites, on the other hand, accomplish their task by laying eggs on the pests’ eggs. The parasites’ eggs hatch first, and then they feed on the pests’ egg.

Ladybugs are a popular choice to control pests. Their favorite food is aphids. They also devour mites and other soft-bodied insects. Ladybug larvae have an even bigger insect appetite than adults.

Ladybugs also feed on the nectar and the pollen of plants, so you can make sure they hang around by having daisy-type plants in your garden, as well as plants such as yarrow, dill and fennel.

Praying mantis help in the garden by eating a wide variety of pests including aphids, caterpillars, maggots, earwigs, beetles and grasshoppers. You buy them in an egg case, which can be placed in a bush, hedge, or on a limb that’s about 2 feet above the ground. The warmer the temperature, the sooner they’ll hatch. Unlike most insects, the praying mantis doesn’t hatch as larvae. It emerges as a “miniature adult” about half an inch long. (It then grows through spring and summer to a length of up to 6 inches.) They stay where they hatch, so they will be in place when the bad bugs arrive... nipping potential pest problems in the bud!

Trichogramma is one of the best known of the parasite variety of beneficial insects. The tiny parasite lays its eggs inside the eggs of the pest (including tomato horn worms). The trichogramma larvae then feed on the unhatched pests.

Before you try to eliminate all the bugs in your garden, remember that beneficial insects can help you. When you see evidence of bugs, bring in a sample in a plastic bag to the garden center. They will help you identify whether the bug is friend or foe.

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