Planting to draw in good insects

On Sunday I had the opportunity to speak at one of the many fine locally owned garden centers, Siebenthaler’s. The topic was pest management in the vegetable garden.

The best part about speaking to any group is having the opportunity to talk with attendees afterwards. These conversations are usually about their gardens and sometimes their garden challenges and problems.

I learn so much from gardeners who are in the trenches using a variety of tactics to manage their pest problems. And I meet some amazing people.

For instance, this past Sunday I met a gentleman named Charles, who will be turning 88 this year and is quite the vegetable gardener. He still has what I would consider a good-sized garden and raises tomatoes and peppers and other assorted vegetables. People like this are such an inspiration to me.

First of all, at 88 years old, Charles is still learning. Second of all, it makes me want to pay attention to my health, so that I can be gardening when I am that age.

He shared some tips that he uses in his garden that I might give a try this season. One of these tips was to plant flowers and other vegetables that can be used to attract beneficial insects.

The beauty of this conversation is that I was teaching about an important concept in the realm of integrated pest management strategies — planting attractant plants.

While not a new concept, it’s not a widely practiced technique, so I was excited to learn that Charles has been doing this for years.

The concept is to plant the types of plants that attract and foster beneficial insects (or “beneficials,” because they aren’t all insects), such as parasitic wasps, ladybeetles, lacewings, syrphid flies and many others in the landscape and garden.

You can preserve the beneficial insects in the landscape and garden by avoiding the use of broad-spectrum pesticides that kill everything, including the beneficial insects. Selecting the right pesticide to target the bad guy helps to preserve the good guys.

Along with this comes tolerating the things you may not like such as spiders. Spiders (not an insect) are great predators.

Certain plants are better than others for attracting beneficials. For instance, plants in the parsley and daisy or sunflower family are great attractants.

Plants in the parsley family (Umbelliferae) have umbrella shaped cluster of flowers or are flat-topped. This flat-topped flower head provides a great landing space for beneficials to land. These attract parasitic wasps, syrphid and tachinid flies, lacewings, and assassin bugs.

Daisy-type flowers are in the Compositae family and attract soldier beetles, some lady beetles, and flower beetles.

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Pamela Corle-Bennett is the state master gardener volunteer coordinator and horticulture educator for Ohio State University Extension. Contact her by email at