Creating a garden ecosystem is the perfect way to nourish both your garden and the wider environment. By attracting beneficial insects into your garden you can even make light work of your gardening. If done correctly, there is no requirement for pesticides - not even the organic variety. Pesticides actually wreak havoc on the environment because they don’t discriminate between beneficial and non-beneficial insects. They kill all types of insects, and this is can quickly ruin an ecosystem.
Having said that, there isn’t really such a thing as ‘good’ and ‘bad’ insects. All play their part in a thriving ecosystem. To create a garden ecosystem you just need to establish the appropriate conditions so that the insect population dynamics will be in balance. When this is as it should be, the beneficial insects will take care of both pollination and pest control.
This article explains the different types of insects needed for a healthy garden ecosystem, how you can create the right conditions, and some tips on maintaining the habitat.
The insects that benefit your garden ecosystem
There are three different types of insects that benefit your garden ecosystem: pollinators, predators and parasitoids. Each type plays a different role in balancing the ecosystem. Pollinators transfer pollen in and between flowers of the same species, which aids the production of seeds and the fruit surrounding the seeds.
Predators capture and eat other organisms like insects or mites, thus controlling the population, and parasitoids parasitise other insects by developing on (or within) their hosts, eventually killing them. Predators and parasitoids help to get rid of the pests that damage your plants. They target destructive insects such as aphids, caterpillars, scale, flies, spider mites, mosquitos and sometimes other wasps.
Here are some examples of beneficial insects that create a healthy garden ecosystem:
- Native bees
- Leafcutter bees
- Bluebanded bees
- Other wild bees
- Ground beetles
- Syrphid (hover) flies
- Aphid midges (Aphidoletes)
- Yellowjacket wasps
- Praying mantids
- Tiny parasitic wasps
- Predatory wasps
- Tachinid flies
- Worms (e.g. gordian worms)
How to attract beneficial insects to your garden
The best way to attract beneficial insects to your garden is by planting the kinds of flowers and herbs they love.
The best flowers for your garden ecosystem are those with readily accessible pollen. Examples of beneficial flowers would be compound flowers, which have flower heads made up of lots of little flowers, and umbelliferous (also compound flowers, but they look like umbrellas). Members of the Asteraceae (daisy) family are also great to plant since they are a favourite food source for many beneficial insects.
Flowers and herbs from the Apiaceae family are very helpful to garden ecosystems. Most Apiaceae are annual, biennial or perennial herbs. Some even attract more than one type of insect; for example, if you plant borage, chamomile, dill, anise, white horehound and parsley, all of these will help to lure both parasitic wasps and pollinators to your garden.
Other herbs that attract beneficial insects are thyme, mint, oregano, rosemary, lavender, sage, anise hyssop, yarrow, caraway and echinacea.
Tips to maintain the perfect habitat for beneficial insects
To maintain your garden ecosystem you’ll need to keep the insects coming back. The following tips will ensure that your garden stays insect-friendly for the long-term:
Insects hate dust, so be sure to keep the soil covered with mulch and plants. They also need a water source, so use overhead sprinklers to create puddles and bowls of water.
You will help them to thrive by creating safe, shady spots that shelter them from birds and other predators. You can do this by drilling holes into blocks of wood, packed clay or cement pipes, or leaning roof tiles up against walls. Our insect hotels makes this easy; they are made up of wooden tubes of various sizes, allowing all kinds of insects to find a safe haven in your garden. They come in sets of two and are made of wood and natural materials, with a zinc roof for durability.
To create a garden ecosystem you need to make your garden attractive to a diverse range of beneficial insects by providing an environment full of nourishing herbs and plants, safe spaces and water sources. When the conditions are right for them, they will interact in such a way that the population dynamics even out. From then on your garden will start to flourish, and you can sit back and relax while Mother Nature takes care of the rest.