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Attracting Beneficial Insects

The month of May brings many beautiful flowers and other delights in the garden. However, it also brings potential insect pests. Many gardeners are becoming more and more aware of the potential dangers of the misuse or overuse of pesticides. The best way to keep insect pests in check is to practice Integrated Pest Management (IPM), which is a comprehensive effort of multiple control strategies to manage pest levels.

The main control measures are physical controls, cultural controls, biological controls, and chemical controls. Physical controls work by doing something to physically stop or kill the pest like fencing or netting. Cultural controls involve maintaining proper plant spacing, fertility, irrigation, and sanitation to ensure optimum plant health, so they can resist pest pressure. Biological controls use the pest’s natural enemies, such as predators or parasites, to help manage pest populations. When all other control measures have failed to keep pest levels at an acceptable level, chemical controls (pesticides) can be used to reduce pest populations rapidly to bring them back to an acceptable level. The proper choice of the pesticide active ingredient and its formulation are crucial to provide the most effective control of the pest, but to have the least impact on natural enemies, pollinators, and the environment.

One form of biological control is to attract and encourage beneficial insects. Beneficial insects help control pest insects by feeding on them or laying eggs within them. These natural enemies can be described as predatory, feeding on many different insects. Beneficial insects can be purchased from online sources; however, many of the native perennials and annuals provide excellent habitats to attract and increase the numbers of many beneficial insects and natural enemies. Using native plants combined with reduced use of broad-spectrum insecticides, can significantly build populations of natural enemies for many insect pests.

Lady Beetle Larvae feeding on green peach aphids (Myzus persicae). Photo courtesy David Riley, University of Georgia, Bugwood.org.

Lady Beetle Larvae feeding on green peach aphids (Myzus persicae).
Photo courtesy David Riley, University of Georgia, Bugwood.org.

Green lacewing larvae (Chrysoperia rufilabris) feeding on aphids. Photo courtesy of Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University, Bugwood.org

Green lacewing larvae (Chrysoperia rufilabris) feeding on aphids.
Photo courtesy of Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University, Bugwood.org

A lacewing egg at the end of its hair-like stalk. Justin Ballew, ©HGIC 2019, Clemson Extension

A lacewing egg at the end of its hair-like stalk.
Justin Ballew, ©HGIC 2019, Clemson Extension

 

For more information on beneficial insects, see HGIC 2820, Natural Enemies: Predators and Parasitoids; HGIC 1721, Incorporating Beneficials Into the Gardener’s Toolkit; and HGIC 1727, Pollinator Gardening.

Table 1: Annuals That Attract Beneficial Insects And The Insects They Control.

Common Name Scientific Name Attracts Controls
Basket of Gold Alyssum saxatilis hover flies aphids
thrips
whitefly
lady beetles aphids
Dill Anethum graveolens green lacewings aphids
hover flies aphids
thrips
whitefly
lady beetles aphids
parasitic wasps aphids
whitefly
caterpillars
Cosmos Cosmos bipinnatus green lacewings aphids
Hover flies aphids
thrips
whitefly
Minute pirate bug thrips
whitefly
Parasitic wasps aphids
whitfly
caterpillars
Poached egg plant Limnanthes doulasii hover flies aphids
thrips
whitefly
Statice Limonium latifoliu hover flies aphids
thrips
whitefly
parasitic wasps aphids
whitefly
caterpillars
Edging lobelia Lobelia erinus hover flies aphids
thripes
whitefly
parasitic wasps aphids
whitefly
caterpillars
Sweet Alyssum Lobularia maritima hover flies aphids
thripes
whitefly
parasitic wasps aphids
whitfly
caterpillars
Alfalfa Medicago sativa minute pirate bug thrips
whitefly
Wild bergamot Monarda fistulosa hover flies aphids
thrips
whitfly
Parsley Petroselinum crispum hover flies aphids
thrips
whitfly
parasitic wasps apids
whitefly
caterpillars
tachinid flies caterpillars
Wood betony Stachys officinalis hover flies aphids
thrips
whitfly
Marigold Tagetes tenuifolia hover flies aphids
thrips
whitfly
lady beetles aphids
minute pirate bug thrips
whitfly
parasitic wasps aphids
whitefly
caterpillars
Zinnia Zinnia elegans hover flies aphids
thrips
whitfly
parasitic wasps aphids
whitfly
caterpillars

Table 2: Perennials That Attract Beneficial Insects And The Insects They Control.

Common Name Scientific Name Attracts Controls
Fern-leaf yarrow Achillea filipendulina green lacewings aphids
hover flies aphids
thrips
whitefly
lady beetles aphids
parasitic wasps aphids
aphids
caterpillars
Common Yarrow Achillea milifolium hover flies aphids
thrips
whitefly
lady beetles aphids
parasitic wasps aphids
whitefly
caterpillars
Carpet Bugleweed Ajuga reptans hover flies aphids
thrips
whitefly
lady beetles aphids
Lavender globe lily Allium tanguticum hover flies aphids
thrips
whitefly
parasitic wasps aphids
whitefly
caterpillars
Golden Marguerite Anthemis tinctoria green lacewings aphids
hover flies aphids
thrips
whitefly
ladybugs aphids
parasitic wasps aphids
whitefly
caterpillars
tachinid Flies caterpillars
Butterfly Weed Asclepias tuberosa lady beetles aphids
Dwarf Alpine Aster Aster alpinus hover flies aphids
thrips
whitefly
Masterwort Astrantia major hover flies aphids
thrips
whitefly
parasitic wasps aphids
whitefly
caterpillars
Four-wing Saltbrush Atriplex canescens green lacewings aphids
hover flies aphids
thrips
whitefly
lady beetles aphids
Purple poppy Mallow Callirhoe involucrata green lacewings aphids
hover flies aphids
thrips
whitefly
parasitic wasps aphids
whitefly
caterpillars
Feverfew Chrysanthemum parthenium hover flies aphids
thrips
whitefly
Coneflowers Echinaccea species green lacewings aphids
hover flies aphids
thrips
whitefly
lady beetles aphids
minute pirate bug thrips
whitefly
parasitic wasps aphids
whitefly
caterpillars
tachinid flies caterpillars
Fennel Foeniculum vulgare green lacewings aphids
hover flies aphids
thrips
whitefly
lady beetles aphids
minute pirate bug thrips
whitefly
parasitic wasps aphids
whitefly
caterpillars
Prairie Sunflower Helianthus maximilianii green lacewings aphids
lady beetles aphids
English Lavender Lavandula angustifolia hover flies aphids
thrips
whitefly
Lemon Balm Melissa officianlis hover flies aphids
thrips
whitefly
parasitic wasps aphids
whitefly
caterpillars
tachinid flies caterpillars
Pennyroyal Mentha pulegium parasitic wasps aphids
whitefly
caterpillars
tachinid Flies caterpillars
Spearmint Mentha spicata hover flies aphids
thrips
whitefly
minute pirate bug thrips
whitefly
Penstemon Penstemon strictus hover flies aphids
thrips
whitefly
lady beetles aphids
Sulfur cinquefoil Potentilla recta hover flies aphids
thrips
whitefly
lady beetles aphids
parasitic wasps aphids
whitefly
caterpillars
Alpine cinquefoil Potentilla villosa hover flies aphids
thrips
whitefly
lady beetles aphids
parasitic wasps aphids
whitefly
caterpillars
Black Eyed Susan Rudbeckia fulgida hover flies aphids
thrips
whitefly
Orange Stonecrop Sedum kamtschaticum parasitic wasps aphids
whitefly
caterpillars
Stonecrops Sedum spurium hover flies aphids
thrips
whitefly
Peter Pan Goldenrod Solidago virgaurea hover flies aphids
thrips
whitefly
minute pirate bug thrips
whitefly
Tansy Tanacetum vulgare green lacewings aphids
lady beetles aphids
parasitic wasps aphids
whitefly
caterpillars
tachinid Flies caterpillars
Dandelion Taraxacum officinale green lacewings aphids
lady beetles aphids
Crimson thyme Thymus serpyllum hover flies aphids
thrips
whitefly
parasitic wasps aphids
whitefly
caterpillars
tachinid flies caterpillars
Spike Speedwell Veronica spicata hover flies aphids
thrips
whitefly
lady beetles aphids

If this document didn’t answer your questions, please contact HGIC at hgic@clemson.edu or 1-888-656-9988.

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