There is an old saying, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” We can apply this saying to gardening as just about every insect pest that plagues our gardens has one or more natural enemies that prey on or parasitize it. These enemies (or friends to us) include ladybugs, praying mantids, assassin bugs, ground beetles, robber flies, parasitic wasps, syrphid flies, and many others. Though often overlooked, these beneficial species can help significantly in managing insect pests in our vegetable gardens.
Things we can do to attract the enemies of our enemie:
- Plant a variety of flowers around the garden. Many of the same plants that attract bees and butterflies also attract predatory and parasitic insects. For example, plants with small flowers, such as alyssum, cilantro, parsley, dill, buckwheat, and fennel, are particularly attractive to tiny parasitic wasps and flies, which feed on the nectar and pollen from the flowers and use pest species like caterpillars, stink bugs, and aphids to reproduce.
- Avoid using broad-spectrum insecticides in the lawn and garden. This includes materials such as organophosphates (malathion, acephate), carbamates (carbaryl), pyrethroids (pyrethrin, permethrin, bifenthrin, lambda cyhalothrin, cyfluthrin), and neonicotinoids (imidacloprid, acetamiprid, dinotefuran). These materials kill pest species but also kill beneficial insects. Wiping out beneficial insects often allows pest populations to rebound rapidly and become an even bigger problem. Check product labels carefully for these active ingredients when selecting materials. For insecticides that are more friendly to beneficial insects, see HGIC 2770, Less Toxic Insecticides, or contact your local Clemson Extension Agent. In addition, carefully consider whether a pest is really causing damage worthy of treatment.
For more information about beneficial insects, see HGIC 2820, Natural Enemies: Predators and Parasitoids, and HGIC 1721, Incorporating Beneficials into the Gardener’s Toolkit.