In this article, we will be discussing beneficial garden guests and the not-so-welcome pests. Plus, some treatments to use against those unwanted visitors. These may or may not be native to your area.

Let's start with the good guys who help fight the battle in your yard and garden space

Braconid Wasps are small, skinny, and reddish black in appearance. They are beneficial because adults lay eggs in or on soft-bodied caterpillars, including cabbage worms, tomato hornworms, and other garden pests. They are attracted to the smell of caterpillars munching on plant leaves. The braconid larvae feed inside their living host, weakening or killing them. A female braconid wasp can lay up to 200 eggs per day in warm summer weather.

The Braconid Wasps are partial to flower nectar and pollen, their major energy source. Flowers with small florets, including most herbs and carrot family cousins, are ideal for these small, fast-moving wasps. Braconids overwinter within the pupae or cocoons of the same pests they attack during the summer.

The Praying Mantis is not poisonous, nor does it have any stingers. The prominent forelegs are lined with sharp spines to aid them in gripping their prey tightly. Most interestingly, it also uses its foreleg spikes to protect itself.

The benefit of having a praying mantis in your garden is its very big appetite. Fortunately, it is also an accomplished hunter. These magnificent insects help farmers and gardeners by eating moths, mosquitoes, roaches, flies, and aphids, as well as small rodents in fields and gardens.

Some say the praying mantis is a symbol of good luck. Seeing it is a sign that you will experience a stroke of good luck. That luck can come in various forms that you can expect soon. The praying mantis is also a symbol of calmness, focus, and concentration.

These beautiful insects are often seen darting through the garden on warm summer days, stopping to rest on flowers or branches. Damselflies have much thinner, lighter bodies than dragonflies. Both dragonflies and damselflies are most common near water because they spend their larval phase in ponds and streams.

Many damselflies spend two years as nymphs, during which they must stay near a pond, river, or stream. Bodies of water that include dense vegetation around the edges are ideal because the plants provide cover for the slow-growing nymphs. Young nymphs are beneficial, too. They consume numerous organisms that live in water. The adults use their acute vision to catch small insects on the wing by grabbing them with their feet. They are tremendous consumers of mosquitoes.

To attract damselflies create an environment with aquatic plants and pollinator plants to attract small insects for them to eat. Some good pollinator plants for ponds include water lilies, buttercup, and iris. A well-stocked pond will offer a veritable buffet for these lovely insects.

Lady Bug/Beetle

Often called ladybird beetles or ladybugs, the specific color of adult ladybeetles varies with each species. Those most often found in backyard gardens are red to reddish-orange with black dots. The number of dots varies with the species and ranges from 7 to 22. All species have six short black legs and rounded bodies about one-third inch (0.8 cm) long. The lady beetle larvae also are commonly seen roaming garden plants. They look like tiny dark alligators with orange or yellow markings.

These insects are good to have around, as adults and larvae, as they consume aphids and other soft-bodied insects. 

Adults lay clusters of yellow eggs near aphid colonies so the young can begin feeding as soon as they hatch. The larvae are especially voracious, capable of eating 100 aphids a day as they gain size. Many species also help control scale and other small sucking insects.

In addition to aphids and other tiny insects, adult lady beetles consume flower nectar and insect honeydew. Lady beetles overwinter as adults, hidden in bark crevices or buildings, so they are among the first beneficial insects to emerge in spring.

Similar to the damselfly these lovely insects are often seen darting through your yard on warm summer days, stopping to rest on flowers or branches. Dragonflies have thicker, heavier bodies compared to damselflies. Both dragonflies and damselflies are most common near water because they spend their larval phase in ponds and streams.

As young nymphs, they consume numerous organisms that live in water, including small tadpoles. As adults, they use their acute vision to catch small insects on the wing by grabbing them with their feet. They too are tremendous consumers of mosquitoes. You can attract more by planting a diverse range of flowering plants to draw in the flying insects that dragonflies like to hunt. Having a good water source nearby doesn't hurt either. 

Big, buzzy bees with black and yellow fur coats are bumblebees. Somewhat clumsy because of their size, bumblebees may collide with you in the garden, but they do not sting unless squashed. Bumblebees need large amounts of pollen and nectar, and tongue lengths vary among the different species affecting their ability to feed on all flower varieties. Most bumblebees nest in the ground, many in small colonies, and others as solitary bees. Seldom-disturbed hillsides covered with grass or stone are preferred sites for nesting and overwintering. Many bumblebee species overwinter as adults, in snug holes dug 4 inches (10cm) or more into the ground. Sadly, habitat loss and the use of pesticides have led to huge declines in bumblebee populations in recent years.

Bumblebees are great to have around the garden. Vegetables with self-fertile flowers, such as: beans, peas, peppers, and tomatoes, benefit from sonication or buzz pollination by bumblebees. Instead of entering the blossom, bumblebees vibrate it to shake out a pollen reward.

To encourage these whimsical visitors to grow a pollinator garden that blooms from spring through fall. Avoid growing all double-flowered varieties of ornamental plants as these limit the bees' ability to collect pollen and nectar. Watch your property for round holes in compacted, north-facing soil, a common sign that bumblebees have moved in to stay.

Butterflies come in an array of bright colors and patterns, but all of them are the adult form of a leaf-eating caterpillar. Their presence is welcome in the garden for their beauty and pollinating skills.

Many butterflies require specific plants for their young, which varies with the species. Monarchs must have milkweeds, while yellow sulfurs need legumes growing in grassy fields. Butterfly larvae feed on plants and leaves, while the adults require flower nectar to keep them going. Zinnia, lantana, monarda, and thistle are among the favorite nectar plants.

A lovely pollinator garden will draw them in and keep them coming back.

Active mainly in the evening, adult lacewings have finely veined, transparent wings over one-half to 1-inch long (1-2.5 cm) greenish-brown bodies. Lacewing eggs are also quite distinctive because the elongated white eggs are on thin hairs attached to leaves or stems. Where you see lacewing eggs, you will almost always find a colony of aphids, scales, or other small sucking insects nearby. The young larvae of these pests are the primary food source for lacewing larvae. Adult lacewings find the aphids by smelling the honeydew they excrete as they feed.

You definitely want these guys in your garden army! During their month-long feeding period, a single slender brown lacewing larva will consume more than 500 aphids. Aphids are vectors for several plant viruses and other diseases, so the fewer there are in the garden, the better!

Lacewings feed on pollen and nectar from flowers, as well as aphid honeydew. The adults of some species attack and eat small insects. Lacewings are often quite active in the foliage of trees and shrubs. Many species survive winter as dormant pupae buried in undisturbed soil.

The garden spider is a showy spider usually noticed in late summer. It has several common names: black-and-yellow argiope, black-and-yellow garden spider, corn spider, and writing spider (I wonder if Charlotte was a garden spider?). The bodies of females grow to a little more than one inch long; males are much smaller. The third pair of legs is about half as long as the other legs. Males often hold the front pair of legs close and the hind pair of legs close together so that the silhouette resembles a St. Andrew's cross. The abdomen is egg-shaped and conspicuously marked with black and yellow. 

Females spin orb webs (spiral sticky threads suspended on non-sticky spokes) with a conspicuous white zigzag structure in the middle called stablementum. All spiders are carnivores that prey primarily on insects. Black and yellow garden spiders find their prey by sensing vibrations in the web. They eat anything that doesn't tear themselves loose from the web. At night, females consume the sticky strands of the web and spin new ones. It is thought they gain some nutrition from minute insects and even miscellaneous organic matter caught in the web.

After mating in late summer or early fall, females lay several hundred or more eggs inside a brown, silk, spherical cocoon about an inch in diameter. The spiderlings hatch but do not emerge from the cocoon until the following spring. Unfortunately, parasites and predators, including birds, prey upon these hapless spiderlings so that only a few survive the winter and even fewer survive to become adults the following season. There is only one generation per year.

You definitely want these lovelies in your yard and garden!

Now for those unwanted pests that are not welcome visitors

Aphids are also known as plant lice, green flies, or ant cows. These tiny, soft-bodied, sap-sucking insects are very small, no larger than the head of a pin. Most members of this family have two cornicles (tiny tubes) located on the abdomen to suck plant sap from tender young plants. They can be a big problem in the garden with vegetables and flowering plants.

An aphid infestation can stunt your plants’ growth, cause the development of galls and deformation of buds, flowers, and leaves and carry plant viruses. They can also affect the health of your root system as they colonize there. This will cause root rot and your plant will have yellowed leaves and a general failure-to-thrive look. This is often mistaken for a nutrient deficiency when in fact it is not.

Black vine weevil

The black vine weevil is also called the taxus weevil. This pest eats many different types of ornamental garden plants. When it is in the larval stage, it is especially destructive to broad-leaved evergreens, such as rhododendron, hemlock, and yew. These weevils can also be bothersome in a greenhouse setting as they like to eat tender plants such as impatiens, cyclamen, and asters. Because of their broad range and voracious appetite, these root weevils are among the most devastating garden pests in North America.

Blister Beetle

There are more than 2500 species of this type of beetle. They are all aptly called blister beetles because they secrete an irritant called cantharidin that causes itching, burning, and blistering of the skin on contact. It is mostly sourced from European members of the species. As garden pests go, blister beetles are both friend and foe. The larvae help keep your grasshopper population under control by eating the eggs. The adult red and black bugs in the garden will eat up your crops.

Flea Beetle

The term “flea beetle” refers to several different bad bugs. This sub-family is a part of the larger leaf beetle family. They are major pests as the adults make short work of leaf crops, and the larvae decimate roots in nothing flat. Adult beetles feed on foliage, producing “shotholes” in the leaves. Look out for these holes, especially on young seedlings, where damage is most rapid and will cause the most harm. The holes they make will be round and can quickly damage leafy greens. New leaves are usually damaged first, and they will have a lacy appearance. Flea beetles usually don’t cause fatal damage to established plants because the leaves are already large enough to survive with a few holes. The real danger is that the beetles can spread bacterial diseases, such as wilt and blight, from plant to plant.

Spittle Bugs

Adult spittlebugs look like very large, healthy, and somewhat gaudy leafhoppers. These pests sport a flashy, multicolored pattern. Adult females lay eggs between the stems and sheaths of plants, very near to the ground. These hatch into tiny yellow nymphs which turn green as they grow older. If you see gobs of a spittle-like substance on your plants, you’ll know that spittlebugs are present. Both as adults and as nymphs, these pests cause garden damage by sucking the juices from plants. This can cause stunted plant growth and overall loss of health. This is a particular problem for legume crops, strawberries, and nursery stock. For this reason, it’s a good idea to inspect your plant regularly and remove adults and nymphs by hand and drop them into a bucket of soapy water. Alternately, try hitting them with a strong water spray. 

Squash Vine Borer

This pest causes serious damage to both summer squash and winter squash. It also attacks pumpkins and cucumbers, as well as watermelons and muskmelons. If you see that part of your vining squash or melon plant is wilting, suspect squash vine borers. Examine the plant carefully. If you see something that looks like moist sawdust (i.e., frass) at the base of the plant, your suspicions will be confirmed. The borers eject frass from holes they bore in plant stems. A lengthwise split in the stem is another dead giveaway. If you see this, examine it closely. You are likely to find plump, white, brown-headed caterpillars in the split. These are your culprits.

Slugs and Snails

Snails don’t do a lot of damage to the garden at ground level, but they are certainly strong climbers. They are known to eat flower buds, fruit as it is ripening, and tree bark. They do have a small benefit in that the slimy trail they leave behind is nitrogen-rich and the plants do enjoy that. Whereas slugs tend to devour your bulbs, mow down your seedlings as soon as they appear. They leave a slimy trail behind that unlike snails is not beneficial and they tend to spread disease and fungus. So you can see there is a fair mix of good guys and bad guys and this is just a shortlist of the many. The best care practice for your garden is organic/natural treatments to rid yourself of these unwelcome pests. Here are some tried and true remedies.

If you're truly trying to get to the “root of the problem” then these little soldiers are what you need

In a moist, dark environment Beneficial Nematodes (Steinernema feltiae) kill almost all pests. Therefore, they are ideally suited to combat insects in and on the soil and those that bore into wood, trees, and shrubs. These microscopic, worm-like parasites actively hunt, penetrate and destroy over 230 different pests including fleas, fungus gnats, black vine weevils, and white grubs. Naturally occurring, they are not harmful to people, pets, plants, or earthworms and will continue fighting the good fight for up to 18 months. They can be used both indoors and outdoors.

Some good snail and slug repellents are coffee grounds, eggshells, and copper. And of course good old beer traps. Just a small amount of beer in a shallow container is irresistible to them. No slug or snail can resist. 

Organic Garden Pest Control Recipe #1

  • 1 head of garlic
  • 1 tablespoon (15 mL.) dish soap (Note: do not use a dish soap that contains bleach)
  • 2 tablespoons (29.5 mL.) mineral or vegetable oil 
  • 2 cups (480 mL.) water

Peel the garlic cloves and puree the cloves along with the oil and water. Allow to sit overnight and then strain the mixture. Add the soap and mix toughly. Pour into a spray bottle and use on pest-infected plants.

Organic Garden Pest Control Recipe #2

  • 2 quarts (1 L.) of water
  • 1 teaspoon (5 mL.) dish soap or Murphy Oil (Note: do not use a dish soap that contains bleach)
  • 2 tablespoons (29.5 mL.) baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon (15 mL.) vegetable oil

Combine ingredients and pour into a spray bottle. Use this organic bug spray on your affected plants.

And as always Diatomaceous earth is always a solid go-to!

That sums up some of the beneficial and not-so-beneficial pests and guests. And the treatments to rid oneself of the pests and draw the guests in to hopefully stay a spell.


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