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Learn About Beneficial Insects in your Perth Garden

  • 5 min read
If you’ve heard the term ‘beneficial insects’ and you’re not too sure what it means, here’s a basic explanation along with some tips on how you can attract them into your garden.   

 

All insects have a role to play in the garden and having pests in the garden is quite normal. When most pests are present in large enough numbers, they can do real damage to some of our plants. However if we get the balance right by providing food sources and homes for different insects (and birds) who eat them, you might be surprised at how brilliant nature can be at sorting things out with only minimal damage being caused to your plants and food crops.

The insects that help with pest control and pollination (and aeration of the soil, among other things) are generally referred to as beneficial insects. This term is subjective of course, as we tend to encourage those insects that offer us a service instead of the ones that destroy our plants, damage our lawns and invade our homes.    

There’s loads of examples, but here’s some of the most recognisable beneficial insects that help us in the garden:

Ladybird

ladybird on a yellow flower

These much-loved beetles are amazing predators of aphids, mealybug, mites and soft scale insects. An adult ladybird can eat thousands of aphids during its life. Larvae are ferocious eaters of aphids. Adult ladybirds are attracted to nectar rich flowers such as Tansy, Cosmos and Scented Pelargoniums. There are over a hundred species known in Australia including four common garden species. One of these garden species (Epilachna vigintioctopunctata) is a plant eater but I haven’t seen it in my garden in Perth.

Hoverfly

Hoverfly on white flower

These small flying insects can sometimes be mistaken for bees. Just observe the way they hover, then dart off and you’ll be able to easily identify them by their flight. They are often visible in large numbers during the warmer months and they have a life cycle of about one month. They are one of the best pollinators in the garden and their larvae are superb aphid munching machines. The larvae are also brilliant at eating caterpillars, thrips and scale. If you have aphids, instead of spraying, check first to see whether any slug-like larvae are nearby making a b-line for their next meal. An insect that pollinates and eats pests is definitely one you want in your garden. Help attract them by having native vegetation and flowers. They are attracted to yellow flowers in particular so try planting Calendula and Marigolds.

Praying Mantis

Praying mantis on yellow flower

Often seen in the warmer months, these amazing predators feed on soft bodied insects including aphids, caterpillars and mealybugs. Mantis are highly intelligent, solitary insects and they seem to have a fondness for plants such as Fennel and Goldenrod due to the smaller insects that are attracted to these plants.

Lacewing

Lacewing on a flower stem

These nocturnal insects prey on aphids, mealybugs and small grubs (among others). They have large wings but are fairly weak flyers and only manage a few metres at a time. The larvae are daytime predators, feasting on numerous small insects that target vegetables and roses.

Robber Flies

 Robber fly on a finger

These fierce predators capture their prey during flight. They hunt flies, grasshoppers and moths (among others). The larvae are also hungry predators, eating a variety of insects on the ground. A well planted garden with height vantage points, can help attract them. So too can plants such as Marigolds, Caraway, Calendula and Sunflowers.

 Spiders

Spider making a web between two plants

Spiders are not insects but they are certainly beneficial and play an important part in our gardens. Many are excellent at capturing flies and mosquitoes and some spiders can eat thousands of them in their lifetime.

Wasps

Wasp on a leaf
Predatory wasps hunt all kinds of insects, including citrus leaf miner, caterpillars and grubs (among others). Some wasps lays their eggs in or on living caterpillars, beetles, scale, flies and aphids.

Bees

Blue banded bee on a pink flower

Bees are so important for a flourishing vegetable patch and they are the cornerstone in preserving ecosystem health. Plant lots of flowering plants to help attract them and feed them.   

 

How to attract beneficial insects

Many beneficial insect adults either feed exclusively or supplement their diets with nectar and pollen. Incorporate a wide variety of flowering plants with different flower shapes, sizes and colours and ensure different plants flower across the year. This will help create diversity in your garden. 

Offer different height levels of plants, from low ground covers up to waist-high grasses and small shrubs. Larger shrubs, small trees and the formation of larger tree canopies offer different leaf sizes and shapes, and different bark types too.

Create natural environments where different types of insects can make their homes and allow leaf litter to remain on the ground. Add plenty of rocks, some bare patches of soil, some logs and remember to include a water source like a shallow bowl or bee bath.

As you create more diversity in your garden, you’ll most likely notice changes taking place, such as the appearance of insect eating birds, which can play a big role in keeping pest numbers under control. Ensure you take the time to observe your garden and the life that frequents it or calls it home.

Plants that help attract beneficial insects

Here are some of my favourite plants for attracting beneficial insects into the garden with a rough guide to the insects they may attract. It’s really important you allow them to go to flower. There’s loads more plants that are ideal so don’t feel limited to this list. You generally can’t go wrong with plants from the Apiaceae or Asteraceae families.

 

A bee bath among the cosmos

Alyssum: Hoverflies, Lacewings, Ladybirds, Parasitic Wasps

Bergamot: Bees

Borage: Bees, Butterflies

Buckwheat: Hoverflies, Ladybirds, Predatory Wasps

Buddleja: Bees, Butterflies

Calendula: Bees, Butterflies, Lacewings, Ladybirds, Hoverflies

Caraway: Ladybirds

Chamomile: Hoverflies, Wasps

Chervil: Bees, Parasitic Wasps

Clover: Bees

Cosmos: Hoverflies, Lacewings, Ladybirds, Parasitic Wasps

Dandelion: Bees, Butterflies, Hoverflies

Dill: Ladybirds

Echinacea: Bees, Butterflies

Fennel: Bees, Butterflies, Lacewings, Ladybirds

Feverfew: Hoverflies, Ladybirds

Goldenrod: Bees, Butterflies

Lavender: Bees, Butterflies, Hoverflies

Lemon Balm: Parasitic Wasps

Madeira Sage Germander: Bees

Marigold: Bees, Butterflies, Hoverflies, Ladybirds

Mugwort: Butterflies, Hoverflies, Lacewings, Parasitic Wasps

Nasturtium: Hoverflies

Pride of Madeira: Bees, Butterflies

Queen Anne’s Lace: Bees, Lacewings, Ladybirds, Hoverflies, Small Wasps

Rosemary: Bees

Rudbeckia: Bees, Butterflies

Sage: Bees, Butterflies

Shasta Daisy: Bees, Butterflies.  

Sunflowers: Bees, Butterflies

Tansy: Lacewings, Ladybirds

Thyme: Bees, Hoverflies

Wormwood: Butterflies, Hoverflies, Lacewings, Parasitic Wasps

Yarrow: Hoverflies, Ladybirds, Parasitic Wasps

 

Embrace the beneficial insects. Love them and nurture them and you’re bound to see the helpful impact they’ll make in your garden.

About the Author - Andrew Osenton

Andrew Osenton started the Kalamunda Plant Company in 2018 and specialises in growing edible and medicinal plants. He is also very proud to produce the Sabrina's Selection of plants for Sabrina Hahn - all of these plants are grown in coir pots and he uses no pesticides, fungicides or herbicides. Order from his extensive range of unusual plants online or see him at the Kalamunda Garden Festival, a free community event he runs in the Perth Hills.

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