They work 24/7 to police the pests that ravish our gardens and lawns. But too often gardeners or homeowners, thinking the only good bug is a dead bug, wipe them out with a few bursts of insecticide.
"There are some insects we call 'beneficials' because their behaviors help us control insects that otherwise like to eat our plants and gardens," says Ric Bessin, extension entomologist in UK's College of Agriculture who is working to educate gardeners. "Without beneficial insects, plants and flowers would be inundated with insect pests." Other beneficials also pollinate flowers, vegetables and crops, or help decompose organic matter in compost piles.
In Kentucky these good bugs include green lacewings, lady beetles, ground beetles, spiders, praying mantids, parasitic wasps, and bees, Bessin says. Lacewings are among the most important of these predators, he adds, because they feed on many soft-bodied insects such as aphids and mites.
It only takes a bit of work to be able to identify these good bugs. "We have a web site (www.ca.uky.edu/agripedia/agmania/insectid) where you can do this, and we have 250 fact sheets on various insectsmany of those beneficials," Bessin says. Another good source of information is UK's county extension office (there's one in each of the state's 120 counties), which provides free insect identification.
"If gardeners want to take full advantage of the natural enemies in their garden, they really need to be careful in terms of what pesticides they use," says Bessin, who also teaches a class for people who aspire to be master gardeners. "Many new pesticides are selective and so don't impact the natural enemies as much." Again he recommends that gardeners contact their local extension office for publications that list the common pests in the area and that recommend appropriate pesticides.
"One way to ensure a better garden is simply to identify before you spray. Good bugs are our allies."