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Kelley Conversations: Benefits of bugs in gardens, landscapes

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Posted at 12:30 PM, May 17, 2023

Growing your own food and flowers is a great endeavor. Nurturing the plants, the heavenly smells, the flavor of the food, and the bugs!

MTN’s Donna Kelley talked to Horticulture Associate Specialist Abiya Saeed of Montana State Extension Specialists about the good and bad ones and learns that sometimes it's better to leave enough alone.

Donna: Is a praying mantis beneficial?

Abiya Saeed: “Technically, praying mantises are beneficial insects in the sense that they are predators of other insects and other critters in our landscape. But one of the issues is the best way to go about encouraging native insects because most of the praying mantises that we see here in our gardens and landscapes are not native. They’re either the European mantis or the Chinese mantis. Although they have been introduced for a very long time, they are still around but they will eat beneficial insects in addition to pest insects.

It's not necessarily the best idea to release these in a home garden landscape. There are lots of other beneficial insects out there, like other predatory beetles, parasitoid wasps, and other things that are already in our home gardens and landscapes. The best thing to do is to encourage them by being a good gardener and practicing integrated pest management or IPM, which means you’re going to look at your tool belt for a variety of strategies.

You can wash aphids off with a strong stream of water, and once they fall off of those plants, they don’t survive. You can use horticultural oils or insecticidal soaps that are more environmentally responsible, pesticides that you can incorporate that don’t stick around in the environment very long, so they don’t affect those good bugs much.

Donna: How about ladybugs?

Abiya Saeed: Although Convergent Lady Beetles are abundant already in our landscape, one of the things with releasing these is, they can be very sensitive to warm conditions. So if you release them during the day, they’re going to fly away immediately. Secondly, if you do release them in the evening in the recommended environment, they’ll stick around for only a couple of days before they still leave because they’re going to try and find sources of food. For these lady beetles, their main source of food is aphids. If you have a really large aphid problem, they might stick around a little longer.