Ordering Beneficial Bugs By Mail
You might not think so, but the leaves on your rose bush taste great. Aphids love them, along your squash, beans and melons. Whiteflies crave your tomatoes, eggplants and hibiscus, while Japanese beetles can't get enough of your hollyhocks, flowering crabapples, grapes, purple-leaf plums and many other plants.
You could blast your yard with chemicals, but you don’t want to kill beneficial bugs along with the destructive ones. A take-no-prisoners approach can throw the natural balance of insects in your garden out of whack, actually allowing some to build up resistance to whatever you’re using, making future generations are harder to control. Chemicals also have the potential to adversely affect the health of humans, pets and wildlife.
The good news is that you can order bugs from online sources to release and help combat the unwanted ones. Here are some “good guys” to look for:
- Ladybugs. Spotted ladybugs, sometimes called lady beetles, gobble up unwanted insects like aphids and Colorado potato beetles. After you release them, invite them to stay around by offering them plenty to eat; you don’t want them to fly away once they’ve devoured the problem bugs. Give them pollen-packed flowers like yarrow, marigolds, cosmos, geraniums and coreopsis, and mist plant leaves lightly so they’ll have water to drink.
- Green lacewings (pictured). These hungry predators attack a variety of pests, including mealybugs, thrips, spider mites, immature scales, aphids and whiteflies. Unlike ladybugs that may fly away after they’re released, lacewings tend to hang around. For heavy infestations, you may need to release three or more sets of green lacewings every 2 to 4 weeks. You can find green lacewings sold as eggs or pre-hatched, ready-to-release larvae.
- Praying mantis. You and your children can enjoy watching these big, fascinating insects. They'll consume many kinds of insects, including grasshoppers, crickets, aphids, beetles and even mosquitoes. Sold as egg cases, each case typically contains 100 or more eggs that will hatch after 2 to 8 weeks of warm temperatures. Let the mantises hatch in a paper bag and then immediately release them, or attach the cases to a plant 2 feet off the ground, where there’s some vegetation to shelter the newly-emerging babies. By fall, the females will lay more eggs in a frothy-looking mass that hardens over to protect them from predators and the weather. When spring returns, another generation will hatch out to guard your garden.
- Pirate bugs. Spider mites, aphids, thrips and even small caterpillars are prey for pirate bugs. You may need to release more pirate bugs every 3 to 4 months to help prevent thrips from taking hold or to combat stubborn populations.
- Parasitic nematodes (Steinernema carpocapsae). Effective against cutworms, sod webworms, caterpillars and more, these nematodes are round worms without segmented bodies. Wait until the night-time air temperatures are above 42 degrees F and the soil ranges from 42 degrees to 90 degrees F before introducing them to your garden. Then moisten the soil and the nematodes before applying them with a sprayer, watering can or an irrigation system.
- Predatory Mites. Some mites eat other mites, such as the destructive two-spotted spider mite. As with some other beneficial bugs, you may need to do more than one release or even treat affected plants with an insecticidal soap to help the first release of mites do their job. Some mail-order companies will ask you to send information on your growing conditions, including temperature and humidity, so they can send the best mix of predatory mites for your location.
- Parasitic wasps (Trichogramma spp.) These tiny wasps lay their eggs inside the eggs of hundreds of species of moths and caterpillars, so they can’t hatch out. Cabbageworms, codling moths, cane borers, armyworms, tomato hornworms, corn earworms and fruitworms are among the pests they combat.
- Beneficial bugs in a pack. Some companies sell a variety of beneficial bugs bundled together. This "army-in-a-pack" might include ladybugs, lacewings and up to 1,000,000 beneficial nematodes to handle cutworms, corn borers, cucumber beetles, termites and other insect pests.
- Earthworms. While earthworms aren’t bugs, they earn a spot on your mail-order list if you need to improve your soil. As they tunnel into the earth, they loosen the soil to help improve aeration and drainage. They excrete nutrient-rich castings that contain beneficial living organisms, including bacteria and nematodes.