How to encourage helpful insects
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After all the hard work we put in to growing beautiful plants and flowers, the effect that pests can have on our gardens can be a source of considerable frustration. For many of us the answer will lie in using chemical pesticides to get rid of the problem, but it’s not the only way to deal with pests. The alternative, especially when you’re growing an organic garden, is to encourage helpful insects and other creatures to take up residence in your garden so that they can manage the problem for you by keeping the pest population under control.
The best way to do this is to provide the conditions they like and a little food on which they can thrive. Because of this, you’ll need to be prepared to tolerate a low level of pests for your beneficial creatures to prey on. Just follow these easy steps to get your pest problems under control with the aid of helpful insects.
Step 1: Provide shelter
Insects generally like dark, damp undisturbed places in which to hide during the summer and shelter during the winter months. There are several ways to create such places for them – leave a small pile of logs or stones, grow ground cover plants, and put down slates or tiles hidden in a border. Providing shelter for beneficial insects is also the perfect excuse for letting your lawn grow a little longer than you might otherwise do.
Step 2: Provide food & water
The larvae of ladybirds and lacewings will eagerly consume aphids and are definitely the kind of insects you want to help manage any pests in your garden. The adult forms of the beneficial insects do eat pests too, but will mainly feed on pollen and nectar, so it’s worth ensuring there’s a plentiful supply of these food sources in your garden to encourage them to stay put and lay their eggs.
Several groups of plants are excellent providers of nectar and pollen:
- Daisies, including Coreopsis, Echinacea, Rudbeckia and Achillea.
- Members of the carrot family, including dill, fennel and parsley.
- Mint family members such as oregano, sage, thyme and mint.
When buying your plants, always keep an eye out for the logo on the care card that identifies which varieties are good pollinators, as it is these plants that will encourage helpful insects to settle in your garden.
Insects also need water, so during dry weather put out a bowl containing pebbles that’s almost filled with water. This will enable insects to land on the rocks and drink without falling in.
Step 3: Reduce the use of pesticides
Some pesticides may be harmful to beneficial insects as well as pests, so they should be used with great care. It’s also worth remembering that if all the pests in your garden are killed, there will be no food left for the predators, meaning there’s less reason for them to stay.
If you really do want to use pesticides, make sure you use them responsibly and always follow the instructions precisely. Try to use products that are specifically targeted at the type of pest you’re trying to eliminate and apply them only to specific areas of your garden rather than going for blanket coverage.
Homebase is supporting the Bees Needs campaign, part of the National Pollinator Strategy, so for more information on encouraging helpful insects to visit your garden just go to www.beesneeds.org.uk.
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