How to Encourage Natural Enemies
Natural enemies are living creatures that eat pest insects. Spiders, birds, geckos, or even insects such as the Lady Bug or Praying Mantis are known to keep pest insects under control. Encouraging natural enemies makes sense because it saves money, energy, and is better for the environment because it reduces the amount of pesticides you need to apply. Here are a few easy ways to encourage natural enemies in your garden:
1. Get to know your insects so you can encourage the beneficial ones.
There are 11,000 identified species of insects found in Arizona, and a large percent are either harmless or beneficial to humans. It is to your advantage to learn more about which insects are pests and which are not, and about their different life stages. For example, most of us recognize that Lady Bug adults feed on aphids and should be encouraged to stay in our garden. However, upon encountering the strange, alien looking larvae form of the Lady Bug, we immediately think they are harmful largely because they are ugly or because we don’t recognize them. Actually, Lady Bug larvae consume more aphids than the adults, and the pupae stage is necessary for the transformation from larva to adult, so all stages should be encouraged!
2. Provide food, water and shelter for natural enemies.
Flowers produce nectar and pollen, which many beneficial adult insects use as food. For example, the annual flower, Alyssum, attracts flower flies and tiny parasitic wasps. Flower fly adults get their name from the fact they hover around flowers. They are yellow and black and often resemble bees. The larvae are pale green legless worms that crawl on plants and feed on pestiferous aphids. The larvae of parasitic wasps eat a number of different pest insects, such as caterpillar, leafhoppers, or cicadas. By supplying flowers as food for the adults, you will have more beneficial larvae.
Don’t forget that birds and other animals are also important predators of insects. If you watch closely, you will see the birds in your garden eat caterpillars, crickets, or even moths. To encourage birds to take up residence in your garden, provide trees, birdhouses or shrubs for nesting sites, and provide a water source.
Many other creatures feed on insects, including fish, frogs, and lizards. Owls and bats are often forgotten because they are active at night and rarely seen by people. To encourage bats, put up bat houses as places for them to roost during the day.
3. Cut down your use of pesticides
Many, many natural enemies are already present in and around your garden. One of the easiest ways to help them survive is to cut down your pesticide use. Pesticides kill many kinds of insects, not just the pest. Apply pesticides only when you have an insect problem.
4. Do not use the insect lights that electrocute insects
These lights are known to kill 60-70% more beneficial bugs than pests.
5. Pick and Flick
If you really can’t stand to look at that caterpillar one more moment, just pick and flick!