May 20 • 7M

Plants To Attract Beneficial Insects, Pt. 2

Know your "Garden Good Guys"

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A deeper dive into what was discussed in the Garden Basics with Farmer Fred Podcast
Episode details

In today’s “Beyond Basics” podcast segment of the newsletter, “Sustainable Food Gardens” author Robert Kourik discusses tips for attracting beneficial insects to your yard. Hear the entire interview in Episode 191 of the Garden Basics with Farmer Fred podcast.

In last week’s newsletter, we discussed three of the best beneficial insects to have in your garden: lacewings, ladybugs, and hoverflies. Today, we cover several more garden good guys worth putting to work in your yard to subdue the pests, and the “Welcome Mat” plants they need for extra food and shelter.

Soldier Beetles (leather-winged beetles)

Adult Soldier Beetle (Photo: Alabama Cooperative Extension)

Like many of the beneficials, it is the larval stage of soldier beetles that do most of the munching on the bad bugs. Whereas the adult soldier beetles feed mostly on the pollen and nectar of flowers - as well as the occasional aphid, insect eggs and larvae - young soldier beetles can be found under the bark of the plant or in soil or litter. There, they feed primarily on the eggs and larvae of beetles, butterflies, moths and other insects.

Soldier Beetle, the larva (Photo by Jack Kelly Clark, UCIPM)
Plants That Attract Soldier Beetles
  • Celosia Cockscomb

  • Coreopsis

  • Daucus carota Queen Anne’s Lace

  • Echinacea purpurea Purple Coneflower

  • Pycnanthemum Mountain Mint

  • Rosa Roses

  • Solidago Goldenrod

Mini-wasps are parasites of a variety of insects. They do not sting! The stingers have been adapted to allow the females to lay their eggs in the bodies of insect pests. The eggs then hatch, and the young feed on the pests from the inside, killing them. After they have killed the pests, they leave hollow “mummies.”

Braconid Wasps

Braconid Wasp (Photo by Jack Kelly Clark, UCIPM)

Braconid wasps feed on moth, beetle and fly larvae, moth eggs, various insect pupae and adults. If you see lots of white capsules on the backs of a caterpillar, these are the braconid cocoons. Leave the dying  caterpillar alone!

Braconid Wasp eggs on tomato hornworm

Ichneumonid wasps control moth, butterfly, beetle and fly larvae and pupae. 

Ichneumonid wasp (Photo by Jack Kelly Clark, UCIPM)

Trichogramma wasps lay their own eggs in moth eggs (hungry caterpillars-to-be), killing them and turning them black.

Trichogramma wasp (Photo by Jack Kelly Clark, UCIPM)

Plants that attract parasitic mini-wasps:
Achillea filipendulina    Fern-leaf yarrow
Achillea millefolium    Common yarrow
Allium tanguticum    Lavender globe lily
Anethum graveolens    Dill
Anthemis tinctoria    Golden marguerite
Astrantia major    Masterwort
Callirhoe involucrata    Purple poppy mallow
Carum carvi    Caraway
Coriandrum sativum    Coriander
Cosmos bipinnatus    Cosmos white sensation
Daucus carota    Queen Anne’s lace
Foeniculum vulgare   Fennel
Limonium latifolium    Statice
Linaria vulgaris    Butter and eggs
Lobelia erinus    Edging lobelia
Lobularia maritima    Sweet alyssum - white
Melissa officinalis    Lemon balm
Mentha pulegium    Pennyroyal
Petroselinum crispum    Parsley
Potentilla recta ‘warrenii’   Sulfur cinquefoil
Potentilla villosa    Alpine cinquefoil
Sedum kamtschaticum    Orange stonecrop
Sweet alyssum - white
Tagetes tenuifolia  Marigold ‘lemon gem’
Tanacetum vulgare    Tansy
Thymus serpylum coccineus   Crimson thyme
Zinnia elegans    Zinnia - 'liliput'


Tachinid flies (Photo by Jack Kelly Clark, UCIPM)

Parasites of caterpillars (corn earworm, imported cabbage worm, cabbage loopers, cutworms, armyworms), stink bugs, squash bug nymphs, beetle and fly larvae, some true bugs, and beetles. Adults are 1/3 to 1/2 inch long. White eggs are deposited on foliage or on the body of the host. Larvae are internal parasites, feeding within the body of the host, sucking its body fluids to the point that the pest dies.
Plants that attract tachinid flies:
Anthemis tinctoria    Golden marguerite
Eriogonum fasciculatum    California Buckwheat
Melissa officinalis    Lemon balm
Mentha pulegium    Pennyroyal
Petroselinum crispum   Parsley
Phacelia tanacetifolia    Phacelia
Tanacetum vulgare    Tansy
Thymus serpyllum coccineus    Crimson thyme


Minute Pirate Bug (Photo by Jack Kelly Clark, UCIPM)

True to their name, minute pirate bugs are tiny (1/20 inch long) bugs that feed on almost any small insect or mite, including thrips, aphids, mites, scales, whiteflies and soft-bodied arthropods, but are particularly attracted to thrips in spring. 

DAMSEL BUGS (Nabis spp.)

Damsel Bug (Photo by Jack Kelly Clark, UCIPM)

Damsel bugs feed on aphids, leafhoppers, plant bugs, and small caterpillars. They are usually dull brown and resemble other plant bugs that are pests. Their heads are usually longer and narrower then most plant feeding species (the better to eat with!).

BIG EYED BUGS (Geocoris spp.)

Big Eyed Bug (Photo by Jack Kelly Clark, UCIPM)

Big eyed bugs are small (1/4 inch long), grayish-beige, oval shaped) bugs with large eyes that feed on many small insects (e.g., leaf hoppers, spider mites), insect eggs, and mites, as both nymphs and adults. Eggs are football shaped, whitish-gray with red spots.
Plants that attract minute pirate bugs, damsel bugs and big eyed bugs:
•Carum carvi    Caraway
•Cosmos bipinnatus    Cosmos “white sensation”
•Foeniculum vulgare    Fennel
•Medicago sativa    Alfalfa
•Mentha spicata    Spearmint
•Solidago virgaurea    Peter Pan goldenrod
•Tagetes tenuifolia   Marigold “lemon gem”

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Thank you also for listening to the Garden Basics with Farmer Fred podcast. It’s available wherever you get your podcasts. Please share it with your gardening friends.

Fred Hoffman is also a University of California Cooperative Extension Master Gardener in Sacramento County, California.