If you’re at constant war with pesky creatures assaulting your garden all year long, you shouldn’t immediately reach out for pesticides, even the certified organic varieties (which are neither more effective in pest control nor have a smaller ecological footprint). Instead, you should consider adding certain plants to your garden or backyard to encourage biodiversity and attract beneficial insects that make it their mission to clean your garden of pests and critters.
Nature is filled with good insects whose diet consists primarily of damaging garden pests. Commonly referred to as “beneficials,” they feed on aphids, mites, flies, and other insects that attack plants, being an excellent pest control method, both environmentally safe and free of cost. But in order for these native helpers to solve your bug issues, they need a favorable habitat to thrive, one that meets their requirements of shelter, moisture, food, and alternative prey. A general rule of thumb is to assign up to 10 percent of your garden space to planting beneficial plants that ensure a favorable habitat for the good guys. By shaping the insect ecology of your garden this way, you will be able to minimize pest problems in the long run and also design a beautiful and bountiful garden.
#1. Bee balm – Aside from providing a spectacle of cheerful colors and delightful fragrances, this is a wonderful plant for attracting pollinators and beneficial predators into your garden, including bees, beetles, centipedes, spiders, and butterflies. Bee balm is also a natural mosquito repellent, a great tonic for sunburned skin, and an excellent condiment for salads.
#2. Golden marguerite – This outstanding perennial with yellow, daisy-like blooms attracts a wide variety of beneficial insects, including parasitic wasps, lacewings, syrphid flies, ladybugs, and tachinid flies.
#3. Dill – Along with several other annual and perennial herbs such as basil, chives, parsley, lemon balm, and coriander, dill is one of the best herbs for attracting the largest assortment of beneficial insects, including lacewings, aphid midge, parasitic wasps, ladybugs, and many others.
#4. Fennel – This perennial attracts so many beneficial insects (sand wasps, parasitic wasps, damsel bugs, ladybugs, predatory bugs, tachinid flies, big-eyed bugs, minute pirate bugs, brachonid wasps, etc.) that it is listed among the best performers for garden insect control.
#5. Wallflower – This sweetly-scented bloomer attracts almost every type of beneficial insect, being an extremely valuable garden protector that cleanses the environment of flies, mosquitoes, and other pesky bugs damaging your garden plants.
#6. Lavender – Another plant from the mint family, lavender thrives in dry, sandy soils with plenty of sun exposure. Aside from its medicinal, culinary, and health purposes, lavender is also a natural deterrent for mosquitoes, silverfish fleas, flies, and many other harmful insects. Its strong smell also keeps deer and rabbits away from your flowers and vegetables.
#7. Basil – Another great addition to your garden, basil loves sunny climates and thrives in well-drained soil. It is an incredible performer on various levels – extensively used in the kitchen as a condiment, in beauty products, or for health purposes. Its flowers are irresistible for a wide variety of pollinators (native bees, honey bees, butterflies) and a natural deterrent for flies and mosquitoes.
#8. Cosmos – Cosmos bipinnatus, an essential for many summer gardens, ranks high on the list of most beneficial – and easiest to grow – plants for your garden. They will attract a large variety of insects, from parasitic wasps, tachinid flies, and minute pirate bugs to ladybugs, damsel bugs, and lacewings.
#9. Sage – Useful in the kitchen and with many medicinal uses, this salvia variety attracts pollinating insects, mainly bees and butterflies, but also repels slugs, carrot flies, and cabbage moths.
#10. Goldenrod – The native goldenrod is an excellent late-season nectar source that encourages the development and growth of pollinators, but also that of predators such as damsel bugs, big-eyed bugs, long-legged flies, spiders, assassin bugs, parasitic wasps, and syrphid flies.
Allowing nature to take care of itself in this manner not only cuts down on your workload, but also reduces the insecticides’ impact on the environment. Fewer insecticides means a healthier, safer garden filled with more beneficials and fewer bad bugs.
Remember that beneficial plants are not a quick fix to your pest problem. It may also happen that a beneficial flower attracts beneficial insects in one region, but not in another. Since every garden has its own ecology, it’s necessary to take the time and observe which flowers attract which insects, experimenting to find out what works best in your unique situation.
About the Author
Daniel Mackie, co-owner of Greenleaf Pest Control, is a Toronto pest control expert well-known as an industry go-to guy, an innovator of safe, effective pest control solutions, and is a regular guest on HGTV. Mackie, along with business partner Sandy Costa, were the first pest control professionals in Canada to use detection dogs and thermal remediation for the successful eradication of bed bugs. In his free time, he is an avid gardener.