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Do you see some creepy crawly bugs in the garden and wonder if they are friend or foe? Find out the benefits of rollie pollies and other bugs that will surprise you. Bug facts are so much fun to learn!
Bugs in the garden serve all kinds of purposes. There are predators like squash vine borers, squash bugs, aphids, and cucumber beetles. There are also beneficial bugs like ladybugs, praying mantises, spiders, and lacewings.
Learn the difference between friend and foe and you can use nature to your advantage in your vegetable garden.
For Printable Playdough Mats with 9 different insect lifecycles, check these out. So fun!
There are so many benefits of wildlife in the garden. Birds eat bad bugs and keep populations down to a manageable level. They even eat wasps and other stinging insects.
These symbiotic relationships in the garden keep one species from taking over everything in the vegetable garden. Snakes are even beneficial. Non-poisonous snakes keep rodents and poisonous snake populations down by eating them.
I hear people say all the time, the only good snake is a dead snake, but if you’ve ever had mice or rabbits in your garden, you’ll have another opinion. Not only that, but I hate the idea of a poisonous snake being around my family, but I know if we leave speckled king snakes, the poisonous snake population will be far less.
Beneficial insects for gardens
There are so many bugs that are beneficial in the garden. The sweet-looking ladybug has a voracious appetite for aphids and eats up to 50 a day!
The praying mantis has a huge appetite for bad garden bugs as does the green lacewing. Praying mantises eat grubs, grasshoppers, flies, and other insects with precision and speed! Damsel bugs eat aphids, caterpillars, and grasshoppers that can decimate crops.
Ground beetles eat slugs and caterpillars such as the cabbage looper worm that destroys brassicas in the garden. One larva can eat up to 50 caterpillars in a day! Wow!
Dragonflies are great for mosquito control as well as flies, moths whiteflies, and fruit flies. They eat their larvae as well.
Spiders keep vegetable gardens from being overrun by so many pests. They spin their webs and catch many things that decimate gardens. Spiders eat flies, mosquitoes, moths, beetles, wasps, and other insects keeping their populations from overrunning the garden.
What other benefits can insects have in the vegetable garden besides control of pests? Pollinating! There are many garden creatures that pollinate our gardens making it possible for food to grow.
Bees are great pollinators. They drink nectar from flowers and blooms and use it to make honey. While they are walking around collecting their meals, they take pollen from one plant to the next allowing it to bear fruit.
Check out this gorgeous bee lap book to teach kids about bees!
Butterflies are not only beautiful but surprisingly are super important for pollinating plants as well.
Flies are also excellent pollinators as well. Many of them specifically visit flowers such as the syrphid flies. They are not as hairy as bees so they don’t carry as much pollen, but they are good pollinators.
Mosquitoes, wasps, birds, beetles, and ants all help pollinate plants so they can produce food as well.
How can we attract pollinators and other beneficial insects to our vegetable gardens? We have to create a habitat for them that meets their needs. They need water, food, and shelter. Having small plates and cups of water around the garden as well as birdbaths helps our beneficial friends.
Most beneficial insects are attracted by flowers or the bugs in the garden as their food source, so plant plenty of colorful offerings for your garden friends to see when they are passing by.
Shelter for beneficial insects can include debris, sticks and hollow stems, birdhouses such as these made from reclaimed materials, mason bee houses for solitary bees, and these butterfly houses can provide shelter, particularly in winter for many species of helpful bugs.
Another creature that is super beneficial to the garden but isn’t really a bug is the plain ole earthworm. Earthworms are the hard-working tillers of the soil and help provide rich nutrients as well as texture for the garden soil. They also help control the PH.
Pests that are beneficial for the garden
Spiders like you saw above, are powerhouses for garden benefits. We may not like the idea of them or find them scary, but they are working hard to make your garden great. Try not to disturb their webs either, it’s how they catch their dinner!
Ants are super annoying, but we know they are pollinators. In my yard, ants are on everything. Anything I set down gets full of them and I hate it. Boo for ants! They even get in my house. They are interesting little creatures though. They eat aphid honeydew (a liquid they secrete), so they will actually coexist with the aphids in order to get their sweetness. They do this with a few other kinds of garden pests as well.
Another benefit of ants is their underground tunnels which aerate the soil and allow for better root growth. They help plants get moisture as well. Their nests contain decaying debris which fertilizes the soil and adds nutrients.
Ants are attackers. They defend their territory, so if you have hoards of ants like I do, you probably won’t have termites because they want the same territory.
Braconid wasps lay eggs in the tomato hornworm. This worm can destroy an entire tomato plant in one day!
What do wasps eat?
I love this benefit of wasps, but did you also know that they eat tons of harmful insects and are one of the ONLY predators of the black widow spider? They can sting her and eat her while she’s paralyzed.
They also sting the spiders and pack them into their nests with their eggs to feed their young when they hatch. The only other thing that eats black widows is praying mantises. A few birds do, but their poison can make them sick.
Wasps can seem like a pest but have many benefits. If you leave them alone, they’ll leave you alone for the most part. We only remove nests that pose danger to our kids or daycare families coming in and out. If they are off minding their own business, we leave them alone.
Flies are so freaking annoying. They buzz your face, they bite, they get in your house and drive you nuts, they ruin picnics. But flies have many benefits to the environment.
What do flies eat?
Flies and their larvae feed many species including cute little frogs and lizards. Fly larvae reduce the amount of decaying matter on the earth. Without flies, things would take much longer to decompose. There would be more bad smells than you can imagine. Hate to smell rotting material, thank a fly that it’s not everywhere.
Maggots (fly larvae) are even used to treat humans medically. Not sure I’d want to have that, but it works.
Flies also pollinate the garden AND feed on garden pests, so there’s that benefit too!
Rollie pollies might be a nuisance in the gardens, but did you know they can remove heavy metals from your soil? They are crustaceans rather than bugs and they eat cadmium, arsenic, and lead and redeposit it in the soil in a harmless form.
What do rolly pollies eat?
They feed on decaying matter leaving nutritious compost in your soil and aerating it for better growth for your plants. If you have very young seedlings, they can harm them because they love tender shoots, but any established plants will only be helped by rollie pollies.
Rollie pollies, also called pill bugs, armadillo bugs and wood louse, carry their eggs in a pouch like a kangaroo. I always loved playing with them as a kid. I love how they roll up into a ball.
There are so many benefits of rollie pollies, but we see them eating young seedlings and automatically assume they are bad for the garden. Actually, they can be both. As long as there aren’t too many of them, the benefits of rollie pollies outweigh the negatives.
Planting a variety of blooming flowers in your garden will help attract a lot of pollinators and other beneficial insects to your garden. Zinnias, sunflowers, nasturtiums, and lantana are some great ones to start with. If you want to attract monarchs, plant milkweed, if you want to attract swallowtail butterflies, plant fennel.
Each beneficial insect has a certain host plant they prefer, so a variety is your best way to get your garden buzzing with good life!
There are so many bugs in the garden that may seem undesirable but actually have a purpose to help your garden. If you are new to gardening, check out this garden video series to help you get started.