August 2, 2012

Garden Friends with Benefits

It's so easy to get caught up in dealing with the wide variety of pests in the garden this time of year that you forget all about the good guys out there, taking for granted the beautiful insects that are working on your team to pollinate your plants or eat all those pesty "bad bugs". So today I'm stopping for a moment to appreciate those friends in the garden that are not only beneficial, but also lovely to look at. These beauties were all hanging out around the homestead this week. (These are so pretty up close, it's worth it to click on the pictures for larger versions.)

Swallowtail butterfly

I suppose some people don't consider butterflies to be helpful if only because their caterpillars can wreak havoc on tender plantings. In the case of the white cabbage butterfly, I definitely agree. Swallowtails, on the other hand, I put in the beneficial category, because I don't usually see their caterpillars in my yard and also because they are just so darn gorgeous to watch. A butterfly might not be the first insect that comes to mind when you think pollination, but they do their part.

Feeding at the "butterfly bush" (Buddleia davidii)

I also love dragonflies. This guy hung out at the top of my bean trellis for the better part of an hour, making it easy to get a nice shot. Dragonflies are our friends in the garden because they eat mosquitoes, flies and other flying, pesty insects we'd rather see fewer of around the homestead. Did you know they can fly 20-35 mph? Amazing! Did I already say how much I love dragonflies??


Okay, so you may not consider this next guy to be lovely to look at (eeewww--I had to look away and let Mr. English process this photo), but there is no denying the benefit of having tons of spiders in the garden. I will gladly suffer through the occasional web in the face--spider in the face is a different story, but so far so good--to encourage these guys to build their homes among my tomato, eggplant and pepper plants.

Garden spider

Spiders catch all kinds of unwanted insects in their webs, seriously cutting down the "bad bug" population and giving me and the plants a bit of help in the pest control department. Yes, they do also sometimes catch the good bugs, like ladybugs, in their webs, but mostly it's flies, mosquitoes, and other bothersome flying insects.

By the way, if you ever encounter a bug in your garden and aren't sure whether it's a beneficial or harmful insect, there's a great Beneficials in the Garden resource from Texas A&M that includes lots of information about insect predators, pollinators and decomposers. Also, the UC Integrated Pest Management program headquartered here at UC Davis has a Natural Enemies Gallery with photos and information about natural predator insects.

What are your favorite garden beneficials? Got any tricks for attracting them to a Davis-area garden?

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