Encountering bugs in your garden is par for the course, and we know that some of them can be damaging to your plants. However, there are a lot of insects in the UK that are actually beneficial to your garden and to the environment. In this article, we will go through some of the beneficial insects in the UK and how you can attract them to make your garden more eco-friendly.
Ladybirds are a well-known beneficial insect and are often sold as pest control. They primarily eat soft-bodied insects like aphids, mealybugs, and scale insects. All of these examples are very harmful to plants and ladybirds can help to control their populations while not harming your plants at all. Some species also feed on mildew, which can be a damaging plant disease.
Bumblebees are the most well-known pollinator. Not only are they adorable and pleasant to have in your garden, but they’re also crucial for the environment. Pollinators like bees are responsible for one in three mouthfuls of food that we eat, so boosting their numbers is helpful for everyone. Bumblebees pollinating your garden plants will also help them to develop fruit, especially citrus fruits like orange and lime trees.
Springtails are tiny creatures that help to break down organic matter in soils. They’re usually in leaf litter, compost, and other damp places with organic matter. These insects are often unnoticeable and help significantly with the health of your soil, and therefore the health of your plants. Some springtails also feed on microbes which can help to control their populations.
Lacewings are small insects that get their name from their transparent, veined wings. They are great at controlling soft-bodied pest populations, which their larvae feed on. Here are some of the pests they help to control:
- Scale insects
As unpleasant as we tend to find them, wasps do have their benefits in our gardens. There are two types of wasps that can help with pest control: common wasps and parasitoid wasps. Common wasps – the ones you’d picture if someone told you to think of a wasp – feed on caterpillars and other harmful insects in the summer. Parasitoid wasps lay their eggs in other insects, commonly aphids which can be a huge problem in gardens.
Violet ground beetles
Despite the name, these beetles tend to be black in colour and sometimes have a metallic effect. These interesting insects feed on other insects found in the soil or on the ground. This includes the larvae of vine weevils, which feed on a lot of garden plants and can cause a lot of damage. Their skills in natural pest control make the violet ground beetle a beneficial insect to have around.
While often confused for bees and wasps, hoverflies are their own insects with their own set of benefits. Hoverfly larvae feed on a lot of garden pests including caterpillars, aphids, and thrips. The adults feed on nectar, making them useful pollinators as well. Pest control plus pollination is a valuable combination of benefits from one insect.
How to attract beneficial insects
Dark, damp places
A lot of these beneficial insects enjoy damp, dark spaces to rest, hibernate, and nest. Here are some ways you could provide this shelter:
- Leaving piles of leaf litter around your garden or as mulch
- Providing piles of logs that don’t get disturbed too much
- Having your own compost heap
Plenty of flowers
Pollinators thrive where there are plenty of flowers for them to feed on nectar. A lot of male bumblebees will also sleep in flowers, which might just be the best part of growing them. Having lots of flowers will benefit hoverflies, bumblebees, wasps, and lacewings. Here are some flowering plants that are great for pollinating insects:
Insect hotels are great for bugs to find shelter from weather and predators, lay eggs, and hibernate. These are especially useful for lacewings who will hibernate in them over winter. If you’re especially fond of ladybirds, there are specific ‘ladybird houses’ that serve the same purpose, but classic insect hotels will also work.
It’s important to remember that bugs are crucial for functioning ecosystems, so it’s good to have some of them in our gardens. If you want to garden for wildlife, don’t forget about insects! Click here for more articles about gardening for the environment.