Beneficial insects are commonly used as biological control for pest insects in an Integrated Pest Management program. An IPM program has four chief components: the use of traps to monitor and capture pest insects in their adult stage, management and cultural techniques to improve the growing conditions, the use of beneficial insects to kill pest insects in their early developmental stages and the use of insecticides if necessary.
For maximum effectiveness, beneficial insects should be released when pest densities are low. Keep in mind that beneficials are not pesticides and do not provide a miracle cure. Just as it takes time for pest problems to develop, it also takes time before beneficials can resolve them. Proactivity and patience pays off!
Correctly identifying the target pest(s) is important before choosing a predator or parasite for control. If you are finding identification difficult, please call us at 1-800-827-2847 or email [email protected] Once pests are ID’d, you can select from the beneficials that work best to control that pest in your temperature and humidity ranges.
TreeHugger: Are there ladybug “farms” gardeners can order from if they don’t want to support the trapping of ladybugs in the wild?
Suzanne Wainwright: Companies like Insect Lore have them for sale but often homeowners find them too expensive. An insect that works better as a general predator in the garden are green lacewings. These can be purchased from Beneficial Insectary for homeowner use.
TreeHugger: If you do buy ladybugs, how can one keep them from flying into a neighbor’s yard once released?
Suzanne Wainwright: You typically can not keep the ladybirds around unless you cage them on the plant. Even then there is no guarantee they will feed on the pest insects because they are harvested while hibernating. Sometimes harvesters will hold the ladybeetles through their hibernation until they are ready to feed again but even then, this does not mean they will stick around.
TreeHugger: How serious of an issue are the parasites and diseases these wild-caught ladybugs carry? Do they affect other beneficial insects?
Suzanne Wainwright: If the parasites are not in the area you could be introducing them. I have seen this happen in greenhouse settings. The parasites only attack ladybird beetles. Research has shown that 3–15% of harvest ladybird beetles carry the internal parasite Dinocampus coccinellae. This same study found many of the harvested beetles to be infected with Microsporidia, a disease that shortens the ladybird’s life span and reducing the number of eggs laid by female ladybird.
TreeHugger: What can gardeners do to naturally attract ladybugs?
Suzanne Wainwright: Many ladybird beetles feed on pollen as part of their diet as adults. Provide heavy pollen producing plants like sunflowers and other composite flowers. Also do not spray pesticides. Even approved for use in organics pesticides can have impacts on ladybird beetles.
It’s important to learn to identify all life stages of the ladybird beetle. Most only know adults and may not recognize the immatures which do a lot of the feeding on other insects and mites.
TreeHugger: I once saw a ladybug “house” in a garden that didn’t have any ladybugs at home. Are these a waste of time?
Suzanne Wainwright: Yes, waste of time.
TreeHugger: Is there something else homeowners can buy or make that would make a good “home” or nesting environment for ladybugs?
Suzanne Wainwright: Being that ladybird beetles have different overwintering sites I would think you would have to look at the region and then species
Also ladybirds don’t “nest.” In colder climates they hibernate. How and where they hibernate depends on species. For example, many northerners know that Harmonia axyridis (Asian ladybird) likes to over winter in people houses where Coleomegilla maculata (spotted ladybird) likes to be in the leaf litter outside. Now you can get PredaLure which the USDA has shown to attract ladybirds.
I want to thanks Suzanne for taking the time to answer these questions. I’m glad to learn that those little houses don’t do anything to increase the ladybug population in the garden because I was planning on installing one. A few years ago when I stopped using chemicals in my garden I saw an increase in pests and beneficial insects like ladybugs. Whenever the aphid population increases I like to trap the ladybugs in my garden and place them on the affected plants.
In this video I recorded a few years ago in my garden I placed a ladybug on a poppy seed pod that was being attacked by aphids. The ladybug made short work of the pests and I was able to harvest poppy seeds. The next time you have a bug problem in your garden seek out the beneficial bugs and start a bug fight instead of reaching for pesticides.
You can follow Suzanne on Twitter at @BugLadySuzanne and visit her website, Buglady Consulting, for more on Integrated Pest Management.
This updated article was originally published in 2012.
- Beneficial Insects
- Garden Insect Library
- Asparagus Beetles
- Cabbage Loopers
- Colorado Potato Beetles
- Corn Earworms
- Crane Flies
- Cucumber Beetle
- Diamondback Moth Larvae
- Fungus Gnats
- Gypsy Moths
- Harlequin Bugs
- Japanese Beetles
- Sawfly Larvae
- Scale Insects
- Sod Webworms
- Spider Mites
- Squash Bugs
- Tent Caterpillars
- Tomato Hornworms
- White Grubs
- Hoverflies and Lacewings
- Wasps and Bees
- Centipedes and Woodlice
- Food Chain: The Next Level
- Learn about 5 beneficial insects in the garden
**BENEFICIAL ORDERING INFORMATION**
Plan ahead when using beneficials! Beneficials insects for sale must be ordered by Monday and Wednesday before 12:00 noon for delivery the following Friday and Wednesday respectively.
Lacewing eggs and ladybugs are shipped on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
We will make every attempt to have your order delivered as quickly as possible. However, due to unpredictable weather, production variation, holidays, etc., some shipments may be delayed.
ALL BUG SHIPMENTS ARE SHIPPED USING UPS NEXT DAY AIR AND SHIPPING IS CHARGED SEPERATLEY. IF YOU WOULD LIKE A ROUGH SHIPPING QUOTE PLEASE CALL US AT 330-302-4203.
The effectiveness of any pest management program will depend greatly on early detection, proper release rates, maintaining the proper environment and, your cultural practices. Biological control methods need some time to become well established. Successive release are often necessary to help establish overlapping generation of the beneficial may need to be delayed until the pest population has been reduced by other means. We will be happy to assist you with developing a biological control program.
We may also have access to newly cultured beneficials not listed here.
Integrated Pest Management
(IPM) is the combination of several methods of managing insect problems.
These methods may include some or all of the following:
- Environmental Control
- Insect Barriers
- Insect Traps
- Insecticides and Fungicides
- Beneficial Organisms
The goal of IPM is not necessarily the eradication of all pests, but rather, the control of the pest population to achieve a balance so that no economic damage is being caused by the pests. A limited amount of the pest will continue to survive in your crop, regardless of the method of control you choose. Using chemical insecticides should only be considered as a last resort, and if the IPM is begun early and practiced properly, chemicals may never have to be used.
Using beneficial insects for greenhouse is safer than chemicals, and is generally less expensive. It takes some time to get the beneficials established in your crop, so you need to begin planning your program early, preferably six months in advance. When preforming integrated pest management practices, monitoring the harmful pests is important. Use Sticky Strips or Sticky Cards at the rate of at least one per 250 sq. ft. If thrips are suspected, use blue sticky traps in addition to the yellow ones.
Our technical service staff can help you determine the right beneficials program for your green house. We handle several beneficials, a few of which are listed below. If you are in need of beneficial insects for sale that are not shown, we can probably get them for you.
Garden Insect Library
Let’s face it – there isn’t a gardener or farmer who hasn’t come across one of these pests, while working in their organic garden. By finding out more about these insects and ways to control them, it is possible to grow healthy, abundant crops without using dangerous pesticides. Pesticides that are compliant for use in organic production and insect killer traps can keep your family and your garden healthy!
Although the life cycle of an aphid may only be as little as seven days, they can reproduce very quickly and thus infest and overtake a plant in a very short time. Eliminating these pests can be a challenge. Click below to find out how to take back control of your garden.
learn about Aphids”
These voracious eaters can be found in agricultural fields, golf courses, and homeowners’ backyards, gorging themselves at night and spending their days hidden in plants or under plant debris.
learn about Armyworms”
Two species of the Asparagus Beetle exist; the Common Asparagus Beetle & the Spotted Asparagus Beetle. Both species eat only asparagus and are destructive to young plantings in the Spring.
learn about Asparagus Beetles”
Recognized by the cone-shaped bag housing the larvae and the female, these pests often go unnoticed until it’s too late to save the shrub or coniferous tree. Save your plant by learning more about these pests.
learn about Bagworms”
Named because it pulls itself into a loop and stretches out again to propel itself forward. In the adult stage, it is a moth that is nocturnal and can often be seen flying around outdoor lights.
learn about Cabbage Loopers”
This pest digs into the heads of cabbage and other crucifers creating small but visible gaps and missing chunks. It is more destructive than the cabbage looper, taking bigger chunks out of the crucifers.
learn about Cabbageworms”
Colorado Potato Beetles
After emerging from the soil in Spring, the adult beetle starts walking to look for food. If it cannot find any after a few days, it will take wing and fly until it finds food.
learn about Colorado Potato Beetles”
The corn earworm, also known as the Tomato Fruitworm, is a major problem for farmers and gardeners. By feeding on their corn, tomatoes and cotton it’s no wonder: A single female corn earworm can deposit 450 to 3,000 eggs in the silk of corn!
learn about Corn Earworms”
Adult crane flies resemble very big mosquitoes. European crane flies cause damage to lawns and greens, as well as fruits and vegetables, while our native crane fly rarely causes damage.
learn about Crane Flies”
The adult cucumber beetle overwinters under vegetation debris or thick grasses. In colder areas, the cucumber beetle migrates to the area from warmer regions. Larvae eat roots and plant stems.
learn about Cucumber Beetles”
Cutworms are the laval or caterpillar stage of certain moths. Cutworms almost always hide under old crop debris, trash, grass clumps or any other form of protection.
learn about Cutworms”
Diamondback Moth Larvae
The larvae of the Diamondback Moth will eat holes in the leaves of plants and eat parts of the plants’ heads. Diamondback moths can be found throughout the United States.
learn about Diamondback Moth Larvae”
During their life span, fungus gnats carry plant disease from one host plant to another creating big problems for home gardeners and greenhouses.
learn about Fungus Gnats”
Grasshoppers travel to a variety of areas in search of food, so they can be difficult to control. Even if you get rid of the present population in your garden, others may follow in a short while.
learn about Grasshoppers”
This forest scourge is found throughout the eastern regions of the United States and Canada and has reached areas of the central U.S. as well. This larvae causes defoliation in many forests.
learn about Gypsy Moths & Larvae”
Its favorite foods include members of the cabbage family and the mustard family, but in a pinch, this injurious pest will also feed on corn, tomatoes, squash, asparagus and beans.
learn about Harlequin Bugs”
First found in the United States in 1916, this insect has spread to almost all areas east of the Mississippi River. Ironically, this frustrating pest is not a problem in its native country, because in Japan this pest’s natural predators keep it under control.
learn about Japanese Beetles”
Leafhoppers are found throughout the world, including North America. Because they drink the juices of fruit and vegetable plantings, they can cause a variety of symptoms and problems.
learn about Leafhoppers”
Leafminers are the larvae of various insects including beetles, flies and moths. Although leafminers rarely kill or seriously injure a plant, it will give the plant an unpleasant appearance.
learn about Leafminers”
Female mealybugs are wingless and stay in a nymph-like stage as adults. In contrast, the male mealybug has two wings and is very tiny, only living for a long enough time to reproduce. These pests are more common in warm, moist climates.
learn about Mealybugs”
Over 3000 species of psyllids inhabit our world, damaging and deforming plants. When they feed on plant juices, they often inject their saliva, which can be toxic to the plant. Knowing more about these pests is essential to eliminate them from your garden.
learn about Psyllids”
When they hatch in the early part of spring, the larvae begin to feed ravenously on the needles of pine trees. These pests can be particularly devastating to forest areas.
learn about Sawfly Larvae”
Young female nymphs crawl around for a short period of time to feed. They then lose their legs and stay at one place, immobilized for the rest of their short lives. Males turn into fly-like insects.
learn about Scale Insects”
Sod webworm is a name given to several species of caterpillers that infest lawns, golf courses, parks, cemeteries and other places with turfgrass. Their destruction is most evident during mid-Summer.
learn about Sod Webworms”
Spider mites are actually arachnids since they have eight legs and most species spin small webs. Yet, they are very destructive to fruit and vegetable crops, shrubbery, ornamental plants and turfgrass.
learn about Spider Mites”
Squash bugs have a flat oval appearance. Found throughout North America, this pest feasts on squash and pumpkin plants, as well as other types of gourds. They infest an area in groups.
learn about Squash Bugs”
Preferring hardwood deciduous trees and shrubs, these destructive pests can be found in the U.S. and Canada. Their larvae cause the most damage. If the infestation is a large one, trees may end up being defoliated.
learn about Tent Caterpillars”
After the eggs hatch, the nymphs eat steadily until they start to molt into adults. While the frenzied feeding only lasts three weeks, in two more weeks they lay eggs, continuing the cycle! Eliminating these pests from your garden is essential to maintain the overall health of your garden.
learn about Thrips”
The tomato hornworm caterpillar is green, 4-1/2 inches long and has a spike on its tail, hence its name. In the larval stage, its only destructive stage, it feeds on leaves, fruit and stems of plants.
learn about Tomato Hornworms”
White grubs are the larval stage of many insects including June Bug, European Chafer, Masked Chafer, Billbug, Oriental Beetle, and Japanese Beetle. They eat the roots of grass and plants.
learn about White Grubs”
Whiteflies can be a problem for greenhouses as well as home gardeners. Adults can be found on the undersides of leaves in large gatherings. These pests can spread viral diseases to other plants.
learn about Whiteflies”
Romantic ideas about butterflies are connected to the fluttering ones, newly emerged from their cocoon. For gardeners, the fun is gone when egg-laying starts a week later, with a total withdrawal of affection for the butterfly’s offspring. It’s amazingly short-sighted; like the food chain and the whole living planet, you don’t get one without the other.
Hoverflies and Lacewings
Above: Marmalade fly, a common form of hoverfly.
Hoverflies and lacewings, like ladybugs, are most appreciated as predators, rather than as a food source themselves. A hoverfly’s looks confuse people (as well as predators), seeming to combine horsefly-style aviator eyes with wasp-like colors. But a closer look reveals a benign pollinator that hovers around umbels such as Queen Anne’s lace, laying eggs near aphid colonies.
Lacewings are wonderfully transparent, with 1930s-costume wings enveloping slender green bodies and beady metallic eyes. Their larvae, like those of hoverflies and ladybugs, are prolific aphid eaters. Lacewing larvae also eat caterpillars.
Wasps and Bees
Above: Wasps in September, tackling ripe fruit on a Damson plum tree.
Wasps help with the breaking down of organic matter. Without their help food that is not harvested would take longer to decompose, putting more pressure on fungus and bacteria. Annoying as it is when you find that a wasp has dug a hole in some perfectly ripe fruit, they are doing what they were designed to do and will not attack fruit that isn’t ready to be picked.
Need more convincing? See: What’s the Point of Wasps?
Centipedes and Woodlice
Above: Honorary insects, centipedes and wood lice in a compost heap.
Like the peach inhabitants in Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach, centipedes, earthworms and other invertebrates are a welcome sight. Under the lid of a compost heap, they are active when the pile is at mid-temperature, before and after the main business of decomposition. Aided by fungus and bacteria, invertebrates are crucial in the process of breaking material down, in or out of a heap.
Predators: The enemy within. Toads and grass snakes in compost heaps are happy to eat either, while the carnivorous centipede (shown above) may be about to eat one of the wood lice.
Food Chain: The Next Level
Above: A British common frog, having strayed about 12 yards from the nearest pond in my garden.
Insects are at the base of thousands of different food chains and, without humans, they are a wildly successful group. Humans without insects, on the other hand, would not last long at all.
See more ways to show appreciation for essential insects in the garden:
- 10 Easy Pieces: Bee Houses
- Flowers for pollinators: See our curated guides to dozens of our favorite Perennials 101 and Annuals 101
- Your Garden’s Best Friend: The Life and Times of a Ladybug
Learn about 5 beneficial insects in the garden
While some gardeners still think that any bug in the garden is a bad bug, change is in the air. Most plant-lovers now realize that insects and plants go hand-in-hand and that there are far more beneficial insect species than there are harmful ones. In fact, of Earth’s million insect species identified by science, less than 1% are classified as known agricultural or human pests. That means that the vast majority of insects we encounter are either benign or beneficial.
Aside from valuable pollinators, there’s another group of beneficial insects worth getting to know. Often called “natural enemies” or just plain “beneficial insects,” the role of this group of important insects is pest control. Yes, bugs eat bugs, and as it turns out, this natural predation plays a huge role in controlling pests in our landscape.
Today, I’d like to introduce you to just five members of this important category of insects. You’ve likely encountered them in your own garden over the years. Perhaps you didn’t know who they were or what they do, but from now on, you’ll know how valuable these five insects are in keeping pest numbers to a minimum.
This is North America’s largest and most important group of parasitic flies with 1,300 different species. Adults, at first glance, resemble small houseflies covered in dark, bristly hairs. They measure 1/3- to ¾-inch long.
The adult flies are important pollinators while their young are the pest eaters. They’re parasitoids because female tachinid flies deposit eggs or live larvae directly onto the bodies of host insects including various caterpillars, beetles (including Colorado potato, Mexican bean, Japanese and cucumber beetles), squash bugs, sawfly larvae, four-lined plant bugs and many others. The egg hatches, and the larvae tunnel into the host’s body. They consume their host and eventually kill it.
Some species also lay eggs on plants in hopes that they’ll be ingested by a host as the plant is eaten. Most often, the fly larva then pupates within its host and emerges as an adult.
Since adult tachinid flies use nectar and pollen as a food source, they’re attracted to habitats rich in flowering herbs, particularly those in the dill (Apiaceae) family. Cilantro, dill, fennel, golden Alexander and parsley are attractive to them, as are members of the daisy family including aster, chamomile, feverfew, ox-eye daisy, coreopsis and Shasta daisies.
Hover or syrphid flies
Many species of hover flies look much like small wasps or bees, with a black and yellow striped abdomen. They do not have the ability to sting and aren’t harmful to humans despite their wasp-ish looks. The ¼- to ½-inch long adults can hover like a hummingbird as they drink nectar from flowers and are important pollinators. It’s the larvae that control pests.
Hover fly larvae are small, brown or green maggots that hatch from eggs laid on plants infested with pests. Each larva can eat up to 500 pests before maturation.
Adults cannot reproduce without pollen as a food source, and because they don’t have specialized mouthparts (nor do many other beneficial insects), plants with very shallow flowers are attractive to them. Plants like alyssum, aster, coreopsis, cosmos, daisies, fennel, mint, sunflowers, wild mustard and dill are great choices.
To maintain a steady population of these predators, make sure something is blooming in your garden from the last frost in spring to the first frost in fall.
Minute pirate bugs
Measuring a mere 1/16 inch, the oval shaped adult is black with white wing patches. The teardrop-shaped nymphs are even smaller and are orange or yellow in color. Both are surprisingly fast moving, and both feed by piercing prey with their needle-like “beaks.”
Minute pirate bugs feed on spider mites, thrips, aphids, insect eggs, small caterpillars, lace bugs, scale, whiteflies and others. To attract them to the garden, plant lots of spring-flowering plants.
Since minute pirate bugs are often the first predators to emerge in the spring, before prey becomes readily available, they depend on early-season pollen and plant sap as a food source. Good plant choices for this beneficial include: basket of gold, oregano, sage, wallflower, wild mustard, alfalfa, crimson clover and parsley.
There are over 6,000 different species of parasitic wasps in North America. These tiny, non-stinging wasps are some of the most beneficial insects in the garden and are known to parasitize more than 300 species of pests.
Most species of parasitic wasps measure between a minute 1/32 and ½ inch in length. Some species have pointed ovipositors (the term for the female’s egg-laying apparatus) that look a lot like an exaggerated stinger but they’re only used for laying eggs.
Most female parasitic wasps lay eggs inside or on host insects. The eggs hatch and consume the prey, eventually killing it. Some species pupate in external cocoons (including the cotesia wasp that attacks tomato hornworms) while others pupate within the host’s body (like the tiny Aphidius wasp that attacks aphid colonies).
Depending on the wasp species, they help control: aphids, beetle larvae, bagworms, cabbage worms, potato beetles, corn ear worms, cucumber beetles, cutworms, caterpillars, Japanese beetles, leafminers, sawfly larvae, squash vine borers and many, many others.
Adult wasps consume nectar and pollen, and they’re attracted to plants like allium, alyssum, cosmos, dill, fennel, thyme, yarrow, coneflowers, sunflowers, helianthus and others.
These beautiful, slender insects are attracted to lights and are commonly found clinging to window screens on summer nights.
The adults are light green with huge, transparent wings, threadlike antennae and golden eyes. They measure up to an inch in length and consume pollen and nectar exclusively.
Adult lacewings lay eggs on the ends of long filaments to prevent the new hatchlings from turning to cannibalism. Several eggs lined up along a blade of grass look much like little lollipops in a row.
The lacewing larvae that hatch from these eggs are fast-moving, flattened, brown and white creatures with large, curved mandibles for grasping prey. Lacewing larvae are big time protein eaters! They’re only ½-inch long but can consume up to 100 aphids per day – appropriately earning the nickname “aphid lions.”
To lure them in, plant angelica, caraway, coreopsis, goldenrod, yarrow, tansy and even dandelions.
Horticulturist Jessica Walliser is the author of several gardening books, including “Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden,” “Good Bug, Bad Bug,” and her newest title, “Container Gardening Complete.” Her website is jessicawalliser.com. Send your gardening or landscaping questions to or The Good Earth, 622 Cabin Hill Drive, Greensburg, PA 15601.
Categories: Lifestyles | Home Garden | Jessica Walliser Columns
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