by Charlene Burgi
There are several tricks to encouraging beneficial insects to find a home in your garden. Beneficial insects can help keep your garden healthy by destroying the insects that are harmful. Before encouraging these beneficials, check your level of tolerance. Do spiders and other creepy crawlies send you running for the nearest can of insecticide? Will caterpillars drive you to distraction as they mow down specific plants before reaching the pupa/chrysalis stage and emerging as beautiful butterflies? If this is acceptable, read on.
Like you, these “good” insects want food, shelter, a place to raise their young, and water to drink. Supplying a good food source is easy. Beneficials are going to prey on the destroyers, or bad insect larvae, found in the garden, and sup on the nectar of annual wildflowers and native plants. Plants also can offer shelter for these insects. They will choose to live in leaf litter, old logs, rocks and bare spots in the garden. And they will lay their eggs in the garden, ensuring future generations that will thrive and help maintain a healthy environment.
Beneficial insects will be attracted to clean water sources from bird baths with pretty stones set inside the bowl, exposed drip systems, or back yard streams. If you have a pond, they will be attracted to the ripple of the water if you provide a shallow rock for them to capture a drink. Note: if you do have a pond, add the beneficial mosquito fish to eliminate mosquito larvae. These fish are available from May to mid-October from the Marin/Sonoma Mosquito & Vector Control District. Cost is free with the caveat that the agency needs to occasionally come onto your property to check the fish. For more information call 800-231-3236.
Keep in mind that water will also attract other critters like raccoons, neighborhood cats and, in my case, neighborhood cows that find our pond to be a great watering hole.
Similarly, the beneficials want to live in a healthy environment. They want to live in an area that is free of pesticides, as they are more prone to die from harmful insect spray than the culprits you are trying to destroy. Think of beneficials as a great natural alternative to insecticides, which can get washed into nearby streams and drains, and end up in our beautiful San Francisco Bay, destroying aquatic life.
On that note, what are you doing to keep the irrigation water you are using on your property? Runoff can carry fertilizers, insecticides, herbicides and pesticides into places that can harm our environment. When it comes to water, remember the mantra: slow it down, spread it out, soak it in. If you haven’t started yet, begin developing a living sponge in your garden. Create rain gardens to capture the water as it falls. Plan on reconfiguring the drainage system by creating bioswales. Get your hands dirty. Have fun!