How to attract the good bugs

Q. I want to go organic, and I have read about the importance of attracting the good insects. Can you give me some more tips?

Andrea from Berlin Center

A. Yes, it seems a bit unusual to think about wanting to attract good insects to your garden, but it can work.

It goes completely against the concept that many have – all bugs are bad and need to be killed. Not true. Good insects can be beneficial to our fields and gardens.

Of course, some bugs are destructive and need to be controlled, but of the 1.5 million plus that are known more than 97 percent are beneficial or simply benign.

Scientists estimate that on one acre at least 400 million insects are present. More than 75 percent of crops and flowers rely on insect pollination.

Insects perform other important tasks. They aerate soil, break down dead material, and serve as food for wildlife. Many insects actually eat the bad guys.

How do you tell the good bugs from the bad? Educate yourself. Take a close look at the insect and what it is eating. Is the result obvious plant damage? Is there more than one type of insect? Grab the magnifying glass and get a good look. Snap a photo. Get to the computer and compare pictures. Bring a sample to our clinic.

After you have identified the insect as a pest, take steps to eradicate. That’s the basics of Integrated Pest Management we teach at OSU Extension.

Perhaps you don’t need anything but a strong blast of water on the underside of the leaves. This method deters aphids.

Another bad guy is the Japanese beetle. Do not put up traps, they attract more. Be vigilant. Watch for the first ones to arrive. Kill them. Hand pick and drown them in a bucket of water with a drop of soap. These scouts can no longer be calling in the troops.

Beware that any insecticide (yes, even an organic insecticide) can take out 97 percent of good guys to get one bad guy. Always use them as a last resort.

Some good bugs to research include lady bugs, parasitic wasps, solider beetles, lacewings, assassin bugs, damsel bugs. Learn to recognize these insects.

Did you know that by growing certain native plants you can attract beneficial insects? Some good ones include Coreopsis, Joe-Pye weed, Bonset, and Goldenrods.

To learn more, go to: Or, consider the book by our OSU professor Mary Gardiner: “Good Garden Bugs!”

Marilyn McKinley, an OSU Extension master gardener volunteer in Mahoning County, provided this week’s answer. The clinic is now open for spring. Call 330-533-5538 to submit your questions.

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