Put out a welcome sign for insects – The Insectary Garden
By Angela Chandler
Not all insects are pests. Many insects in and about our gardens are termed beneficial insects. Truthfully, all insects are beneficial to the environment. However, when a gardener uses the term, we are referring to a beneficial partnership we have with that insect – something that helps our gardens in some way.
It’s easy to recognize the benefits of bees and butterflies. We know we need them for the essential function of pollenating our fruits, vegetables, and ornamentals we grow from seed. Without them, we would lose approximately one-third of our food crops. In addition to pollination, we look forward to seeing butterflies in our garden for the sheer beauty and grace they provide.
Other insects may be harder to recognize as beneficial — take wasps, for example. Several species of wasps visit our gardens. Some are so tiny we may just lump them in with the “no-see-ums” or think they are a gnat. Others are larger wasps we are used to seeing every summer. Wasps are great predators. Braconid wasps lay their eggs in caterpillars like the Tomato Hornworm. The larvae will use the living caterpillar as their food source until they have completed their pupal stage. Larger wasps, like the Red Paper Wasp, will collect insects to feed their own larvae. I have seen a colony of Red Wasps completely clean out a large nest of Fall Webworms in less than a week. Tear a hole in the web, then just stand back and watch!
Spiders are another group gardeners should learn to love. You may see the webs of the large Yellow Garden Spider, but you don’t see the hundreds of spiders patrolling in and around your mulch looking for their next meal. Beetles are also ground hunters, and all of them are working twenty-four hours a day to keep pests out of your garden.
Once we start seeing these insects as garden helpers, what can we do to encourage them to stick around and help us manage our pest populations? Plant an Insectary Garden! Insectary gardens are not happenstance. They are planned and landscaped to provide everything insects need to complete their life cycles – food, water, shelter, and safety. Planning an insectary garden is a lot of fun. It can grow to become a hobby of its own. We incorporate many native plants because native insects evolved with these native plants. Also, native plants are generally easier to maintain because of their adaptability to heat and drought, as well as hardiness through our winters.
Angela Chandler is a life-long hobby gardener and holds Specialist Certifications in Plant Propagation, Entomology, Rainwater Harvesting, and Greenhouse Management. She teaches Urban Harvest monthly classes in varying subjects from Basic Organic Gardening, Basic Fruit Tree Care to Low Volume Irrigation and Bokashi Composting.