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Attracting Beneficial Insects to Your Garden

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Author: Tricia Edgar

Some bugs are great for your garden. Can you use certain plants to attract them?

Problem:

When you plant insect-attracting plants, does this actually increase the number of beneficial insects in your garden?

Materials

  • 5 borage plants
  • Insect identification book
  • Tape measure
  • Watch or timer
  • Notebook and pencil

Procedure

1.    What’s the buzz in the garden? It’s all about flowers! Bugs love flowers, and flowers attract beneficial insects that help pollinate crops or munch other invertebrates that might eat your garden plants.

2.    If you add certain plants to your garden, will this increase the number of beneficial insects? Create a hypothesis, your best guess about what is going to happen.

3.    Do this experiment in the spring, summer, or early fall, times when the bugs are active. You want to be able to see them.

4.    First, sit outside and observe the garden. Watch to see what flying insects are there. Try to identify them. Look in your insect book if you have trouble. Do this a few times until you’re pretty good at bug identification.

5.    Do a timed experiment. On a sunny day, mark off a 3'x3' plot and choose a 30-minute period to do your experiment. Note the time you start, since you’ll be doing this experiment at the same time on another day. Watch the insects enter your plot, and as they do, write down the type of insect and the number in your notebook.

6.    Now you’ll plant borage in the plot. Borage plants are known to attract beneficial insects. Plant five borage plants that are in bloom. Water them, and let them adjust to their new environment for a few days.

7.    Find a day that is sunny and go outside at the same time you went out on the first day. Observe the plot again. Count the number of flying insects in the plot over a thirty minute period. Are there more? Less? What kinds of insects are there?

Results

The borage plants will attract more beneficial—or helpful—insects to your garden.

Why?

Beneficial insects are very important to your garden. They’re there to create soil, and they’re also there to eat those invertebrates that you might consider pests. One common example of a beneficial insect is the ladybug. If you have a lot of aphids and you don’t spray them with pesticides, the ladybugs will come and eat the aphids, restoring some balance to your garden.

Another type of beneficial insect is the pollinator. These little creatures go far beyond the honeybee. Native bees such as mason bees and other flying insects such as hoverflies will come to visit flowers, and along the way they will spread pollen from one flower to another, helping the flowers make seeds.

Some flowers are particularly good at attracting these beneficial insects. Alyssum is one of them. Borage is another. If you place borage in your garden and you and your neighbors avoid spraying pesticides, you’ll create a safe home for these insects. They’ll come for the food, but they’ll stay if you add lots of plants that attract them. While they’re there, these bugs will be hard at work in your garden, pollinating your plants and munching on destructive pests.

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