At the core of Stoney Creek Farm’s values is our commitment to sustainable agriculture. This means avoiding the use of pesticides as much as possible.
In order to do this, we rely heavily on the work of beneficial insects. These insects help protect your garden by preying on pests that destroy plants.
Keep reading for a list of 12 beneficial insects that will control pests without the use of pesticides.
As always, thank you to our UT Ag Extension Agent David Cook for sharing excellent resources with us that have guided this blog post!
1. Aphid Midges
Aphid midges prey on their namesake: the teeny tiny but destructive aphid. Aphid midges aren’t picky eaters, either: they dine on more than 60 types of aphid species.
Why are aphids Enemy No. 1 for your garden?
Like the Dracula of the plant world, aphids feed on plants by sucking out juices. Different aphid species prey on different types of plants and different portions of the plant (leaves, stems, fruit, etc.). An aphid population can easily explode in growth, so it’s important to keep these in check.
Fortunately, aphid midges (and many other beneficial insects listed below) are great alternatives for pesticide-free aphid control.
Aphid midges are drawn by dills, plants that contain plenty of pollen and nectar, and a nearby source of water.
Ladybugs are an image synonymous with blooming gardens and sunny days. Not only are they a welcomed pop of red color, but ladybugs also serve double duty as predator insects to a number of pests you don’t want in your garden: aphids, whitefly, mites, fleas, and Colorado potato beetles.
If we could choose a bug to enter an aphid-eating contest, our money would be on the ladybug. A single ladybug can consume 5,000+ aphids in its lifetime!
Attract these lovely ladies (and gentlemen) bugs to your garden with dill, dandelion, fern-leaf yellow, Basket of Gold alyssum, and common yarrow plants.
3. Praying Mantis
Known as a Praying Mantis to us, they are more like a Preying Mantis to the unlucky bugs on its dinner menu, including caterpillars, moths, beetles, and crickets.
Create a home-sweet-home garden for these beneficial bugs by planting cosmos, marigolds, and dills. They are also attracted by tall grasses and shrubs.
While the average Joe might categorize spiders as an unwanted creepy crawly, they are fantastic predators for your garden, preying on several destructive insects like bed bugs, aphids, roaches, grasshoppers, and fruit flies.
Weaving spiders love tall plants to create the perfect web, whereas predatory spiders need mulch for their living quarters.
5. Ground Beetles
Has your garden become a playground for slugs, caterpillars, Colorado potato beetles, or cutworms? Time to call in the ground beetles to take care of these pests.
Typically only active at night, ground beetles are attracted to evening primrose, amaranthus, and clover.
6. Green Lacewings
Green lacewings are the green guardians for several plants. These are another beneficial insect that can help keep aphid populations in check.
But unlike other beneficial insects, the “baby” green lacewing is what the aphid should fear. Green lacewing larva have fangs of sorts, which they then use to inject digestive juices straight into their prey. As the prey is basically digested from the outside in, the larva sucks the juices out.
Green lacewings are our go-to beneficial insect of choice here at Stoney Creek Farm. We purchase lacewing eggs to place on our tomato plants to protect against aphid infestations.
7. Tachinid Flies
Tachinid flies are great beneficial insects for controlling gypsy moths, Japanese beetles, cutworms, and squash bugs.
Tachinid flies keep pests in check by laying eggs directly onto the host or onto nearby foliage. They are attracted to your garden by carrots, cilantro, dill, coriander, and buckwheat.
Facts: Tachinids parasitize pests by laying eggs onto the host or onto nearby foliage.
8. Mealybug Destroyer
The name of the “mealybug destroyer” might be all that you need to know about this beneficial insect.
The mealybug destroyer preys on several species of mealybugs (though not all). It goes after both mealybug eggs and adults depending on which stage of growth it is at (young larvae, older larvae, adults).
Bonus points for this beneficial bug is that it also dines on aphids.
Mealybug destroyers love fennel, dill, angelica, sunflower, and goldenrod.
9. Predatory Mites
The word “mite” might make your skin crawl, but not all mites are enemies. Some, like the predatory mite, are actually beneficial to your garden. Predatory mites prey on spider mites, which cause damage to plants by feeding on the undersides of leaves.
Predatory mites are attracted to humid environments. If no prey is available, they’ll feed on plant pollen, and not the plant itself.
You might confuse hoverflies with bees when you see them hovering over flowers, but don’t be mistaken. The hoverfly doesn’t have any mouthparts or stingers and is incredibly tiny.
Just like the green lacewing, it’s the larva that assumes superhero status and goes after the aphid enemy. Don’t let the blind, legless larvae fool you—they can crawl, preying on the unsuspecting aphids around them.
Hoverflies are attracted by fern-leaf yarrow, common yarrow, dill, Basket of Gold alyssum, and statice.
11. Damsel Bugs
Damsel bugs are anything but damsels in distress. These powerful beneficial insects prey on a number of damaging pests, including caterpillars, mites, aphids, potato beetles, and cabbage worms.
Attract damsel bugs to your garden with caraway, fennel, alfalfa, spearmint, and Peter Pan Goldenrod.
12. Parasitoid Wasp
Here’s a horror story that an aphid would tell around a campfire: The tiny female parasitoid wasp lays her eggs onto the body of an unsuspecting aphid or other insect—without killing it. The host insect continues, oblivious to its fate, while the egg receives its protein directly from its host, eventually hatching as larvae and invading the host’s body directly, consuming the host from the inside out.
The larva feeds slowly, not wanting to kill the host too soon. (This is where the aphids listening to the story would gasp.) After the larva pupates, it will emerge as an adult from the body of the now-dead host.
But for gardens, the parasitoid wasps are the hero of the story when it comes to keeping pests like aphids from destroying your garden or crops.
So when you spray pesticides on your plants to kill aphids, you’re also killing these beneficial bugs that are the natural predator of aphids.
Attract parasitoid wasps to your garden with flowers that provide pollen and nectar and a shallow water source. Alyssum, cilantro, and dill also attract beneficial wasps.
Sources for your beneficial insects.
We purchase our beneficial insects from ARBICO Organics and have always had a great experience ordering from them!
Remember that you will need to have plants that your beneficial insects are attracted to before you release your newly-purchased predator bugs into your garden.
Gardening season is now fully upon us! Keep reading for more gardening guidance from Stoney Creek Farm.