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It's a bug's life
10:57am Tuesday 7th October 2008 in Gardening
MANY of us are already tackling aphids on our roses and picking red lily beetles off the petals of emerging blooms but it is important to remember that not all insects are bad.
In fact you can reduce your pests by attracting beneficial insects to the garden.
Good ones include ladybirds and hoverflies, bees, butterflies and ground beetles. Nuisance ones include the lily beetle, vine weevil, whitefly and red spider mite.
Beneficial insects are useful predators, eating slugs, caterpillars and aphids. A single lacewing devours between 1,000 and 10,000 aphids in its lifetime, while a ladybird larva can eat between 30 and 40 aphids a day.
Many solitary parasitic wasps can also keep down aphids and caterpillars. Even the much demonised harlequin ladybird, which some entomologists are worried will kill off our native ladybird, has a voracious appetite for aphids.
"Bringing back bugs is easily done," said Carrie Pailthorpe, adviser for Garden Organic.
"Looking after the garden in an organic way encourages the return of insects and wildlife by avoiding harmful chemicals, growing insect-attracting plants and providing natural insect habitats that encourage a balance of pests and predators in our gardens.
"And it isn't just insects that will benefit from our efforts — insect loving wildlife will too. A nesting family of blue tits can consume more than 600 caterpillars a day and by providing insects with places to inhabit we can help redress the natural balance of our gardens."
There are many ways to attract beneficial insects to the garden.
Plant nectar-producing and pollen-rich plants such as convolvulus tricolor, limanthes douglasii (poached egg plant), dill, cosmos and French marigold and you should soon see more good insects on the scene.
Many pollinating insects, like bees, are drawn to purple, blue, yellow or white. Flowers from this end of the colour spectrum often have different coloured markings to direct insects to the nectar and pollen.
Plant traditional single-flowered forms and avoid the hybrid cultivars, especially those with double flowers, which are often sterile and therefore useless to nectar and pollen feeders.
If you have a garden that is large enough for you to have a small patch of waste ground, allow native wild plants to grow.
Nettles in your garden will support a number of butterfly and moth species, but should be in full sun to attract butterflies.
Allow a section of your lawn to grow into a small meadow, if you have space. Different grass species interspersed with wild flowers such as ox-eye daisies will attract more insects into the garden. If you buy wild plants or seeds, make sure that they originate from the UK.
Try to have some form of hedgerow made from native plants such as the hawthorn or hazel underplanted with native woodland plants such as the bluebell endymion non-scriptus and wood anenome Anemone nemerosa.
Do not trim your shrubs until later on in the summer. If you allow some of the fallen leaves and cuttings to remain in a section of the garden, you will provide useful shelter.
Make small piles from broken crocks and stones to provide shelter for ground beetles and other nocturnal insects.
Avoid using chemicals if another control method will do. Be aware that you may also be killing the natural predators that feed on the pests, such as ladybirds, ground beetles, hoverflies and parasitic wasps.
The Royal Entomological Society also advises us to try to live with pest insects and not automatically kill them. Easier said than done, when they are doing their best to destroy our beautiful blooms...