Top 10 Questions About Beneficial Garden Friends

Here at Gardening Know
How
we get lots of questions, and our goal is to provide answers to
those inquiries to the best of our knowledge, and this includes beneficial insects
and wildlife in the garden
. The following information includes the 10 most
commonly asked questions about beneficial
friends in the landscape
.

1. What plants will attract ladybugs?

Ladybugs
are charming little beetles with huge appetites for aphids and other pests; a
single ladybug can destroy as many as 5,000 pests during its lifetime. Learn to
tolerate a few pests in your garden because ladybugs will move on if there is
no food source. You may even want to plant flowers that attract aphids, such as
nasturtiums. Plants that invite ladybugs to your garden include dandelions,
calendula, marigold, geranium, yarrow, cosmos, sweet alyssum, coreopsis, tansy,
wild carrots, angelica, and coneflowers. Ladybugs are also attracted to many
edible plants, including raspberry canes, garlic, dill, mint, parsley, fennel,
and chives.

2. What plants are butterflies attracted to for butterfly garden?

Many types of butterflies have dwindled in numbers, due
primarily to shrinking habitat. Planting a variety of nectar-rich plants is a
great way for gardeners to help sustain these beautiful creatures. Plants
(including a few weeds) that butterflies love
include hollyhocks, yarrow,
lupine, nettle, milkweed, thistle, phlox, anise hyssop, asters, purple coneflower
(Echinacea), lantana, nasturtium, Shasta daisy, salvia, Mexican sunflower,
zinnia, goldenrod, black-eyed susan, penstemon, and coreopsis. Consider
planting a few edibles in your butterfly
garden
as well, such as fennel, chives, marjoram, parsley, mint, and thyme.

3. Is there a safe weed killer for birds and animals in the garden?

No weed killer is 100 percent safe, but there are some pet-friendly
options
that can be employed for wildlife too. However, ascetic acid, in
the form of horticultural vinegar or household vinegar, may be effective when
weeds are small, but less so on larger mature weeds. The addition of salt,
oil or soap may increase vinegar’s ability to kill weeds, but use
vinegar
with care, as it may also kill desired plants. Corn
gluten meal
has been used as an alternative to chemicals for over a decade,
with mixed opinions regarding its effectiveness. Relatively new iron-based
products are touted as being safer, but the iron can also damage young trees
and perennials.

4. Will neem oil harm ladybugs?

Neem
oil is safe for ladybugs
when used properly and at recommended levels. This
is primarily because the oils kill aphids and other pests that chew on plants,
but doesn’t bother ladybugs and other beneficial insects that don’t eat leaves.
However, the oil can smother ladybugs when sprayed directly on them while they
are on the foliage. For this reason, it’s safest to apply
neem oil
in the evening or morning when ladybugs aren’t as likely to be
present. Once the neem oil dries, it is still toxic to chewing and sucking
pests, but it’s safe for ladybugs that land on the plant. 

5. Which plants are frog/toad friendly?

You should be very happy if a few frogs and toads decide to
take up residence in your garden, because the friendly amphibians aren’t only
fun to have around, but they eat an amazing number of pests, including
mosquitoes, flies, snails, and slugs. Frogs
and toads
like plants with large, low-growing leaves they can hide under, such as
ligularia and bergenia. If you have a pond or water feature, surround it with
shade-loving plants like ferns or hostas. Nectar-rich plants (such as those you
would plant in a butterfly garden), attract bugs that provide tasty meals for
frogs and toads.

6. What are ways to attract earthworms to soil?

Earthworms
loosen and aerate the soil, leaving an abundance of nutrient-rich feces
(castings) as they tunnel through. To attract earthworms, dig in generous
amounts of organic matter such as compost, dry grass clippings, or chopped
leaves. If you prefer, you can leave organic matter, including bark chips,
compost, or other types of mulch, on top of the soil where it protects
earthworms from hungry birds and enriches the soil as it decomposes. You can
also try digging in a little corn meal every two or three weeks, then water to
keep it moist but not soggy. 

7. Are praying mantis bugs good for the garden?

Praying
mantis
isn’t necessarily the best bug in your garden, but not the worst
either. Praying mantis eats a lot of insect pests, including aphids, and they
are one of the few bugs quick enough to eat mosquitoes and flies. However, they
will also kill larger beneficial insects such as butterflies and honey bees,
and later in the season, they may be big enough to grab an unsuspecting
hummingbird. However, most gardeners think praying mantis do more good than
harm because they don’t multiply fast enough to decimate populations of
beneficial insects, and because they reduce the need for harmful pesticides.

8. What can I plant to attract bees?

Plant a variety of blooming plants to ensure bees have
access to nectar and pollen-rich plants in a variety of shapes and colors from
early spring to late summer. Those native to your area are highly attractive to
bees and require minimal care; however, many non-native plants are also
bee-friendly. Plant flowers in clumps, preferably in a sunny area protected
from harsh winds. Bee-friendly
flowers
include natives such as black eyed susan, white clover, bachelor’s
buttons, penstemon, Oregon grape, salvia, wild sunflower, bee balm, and purple
coneflower. Nectar-rich non-natives include lavender, zinnia, hyssop, heather,
globe allium, and cotoneaster.

9. How do I get beneficial bugs to eat aphids?

To invite
beneficial bugs
, create a welcoming habitat with a variety of plants that
bloom throughout the season. Plants with umbrella-like seedheads like dill,
fennel, yarrow, and tansy are especially attractive to bees. Beneficial
insects
also like nectar-rich flowers like zinnias, marigolds, sunflowers,
and alyssum, and herbs such as lavender, parsley and cilantro. Also, you’ll
need to tolerate a few pests because beneficial bugs won’t visit a garden with
no food sources. Provide water, such as a birdbath with a rock extending above
the water, or a saucer with water and pebbles. Water properly and mulch flower
beds to minimize dust. 

10. What flowers attract hummingbirds?

Inviting
hummingbirds to your garden
isn’t difficult, and hummingbird-friendly
flowers will add color and beauty your garden. Hummingbirds are attracted to
flowers with tube-shaped blooms that accommodate their long, narrow beaks.
Plant an assortment of nectar-rich blooming plants that flower throughout the
season, especially those in shades of red, blue, purple, pink and white.
Hummingbird-friendly plants include columbine, fuchsia, lobelia, cardinal
flowers, monarda, scarlet salvia, lonicera, canna lilies, coral bells,
foxglove, penstemon, hollyhock, phlox, trumpet vine, delphinium, purple
coneflower, nasturtiums, petunias, zinnias, sweet William, verbena, and yucca.

We all have questions now and then, whether long-time
gardeners or those just starting out. So if you have a gardening question, get a
gardening answer
. We’re always here to help.

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