Beneficial insects and flowers

15 February 2011

When you're an organic gardener, it pays you to work in with the natural ecosystem in your backyard.  Try to stay away from sprays, because even the organic options sometimes kill beneficial insects and have withholding periods. There will be times when you'll have to use a commercial organic spray, bait or powder, but make sure it's the last option. I don't think that every recommended organic methods works. For instance, over the 30+ years we've been growing vegetables, I've tried companion planting every so often, but it's never worked for us.  However, there are other organic techniques  that do work and we rely on them year after year.

Marigolds alongside bok choy, tomatoes and cucumbers.

One of the things we do here is to plant flowers in the vegetable garden.  Almost any flower will be suitable because most flowers bring in the bees, but there are a group of flowers that attract beneficial insects.  Not all bugs are bad and if you go around killing every insect you see, you will be doing completely the wrong thing.  Some bugs eat other bugs, or their eggs, and some of them lay their eggs in the bodies of other insects.  It sounds pretty gruesome but it's how the natural world works and it can help you.

Yarrow flowers - this plant is also good for activating compost.

Dill flowers 

Please be aware that the insects in each country may be different.  Some will be the same everywhere, but others specific to certain countries or regions.  In Australia, these insects are always a pest: the European wasp - these are aggressive and dangerous; ticks - the paralysis tick can kill dogs and cats; mosquitos - carry disease; the large earth bumble see - these were accidentally released in Tasmania and have been an environmental disaster, completing with native bees for food; fire ants - a relatively new pest but a serious threat in the areas they've colonised.

Daisies next to cos lettuce.

These are the beneficial bugs: most bees - in Australia there are two solitary native bees: the teddy bear bee and blue banded bee, and our little native bee, the sugar bag bee. We also have the honeybee, introduced into Australia in 1822 because the English thought there were no bees here. All those bees are good and if you have bees visiting your garden, particularly the native bees, you're very lucky.  There are photos here showing some of our bees, including the pest large earth bumble bee.  Ants are sometimes good and sometimes not.  If they start farming scale for the honeydew, find the nest and get rid of them.  Predatory wasps, hoverflies and most ladybugs are good fellows.  You can see photos of these bugs here.  It's a good idea to learn how to identify the beneficial bugs.   For the American and Canadian gardeners, here is a site for you.  Again, learn how to identify these insects.  They will help you produce all those vegetables you want.  For my UK friends, here is a site for you.  Other insects that you want in your garden include:
  • assassin bugs
  • lacewings
  • stink beetles
  • parasitic wasps and predator wasps like paper wasps and mud daubers
  • many spiders
  • dragonflies
  • praying mantises
  • robber flies
  • lady beetles, but not the 28 spot beetle that looks like a lady beetle - they eat plants  Photo here
  • ant lions
If you have children, you'll have to be careful if you have wasps visiting.  Our rule of thumb here is that if they start building a nest close to where we are, such as the one the paper wasps started building on our front verandah last year, we remove the nest.  Otherwise, they stay.  If you see the occasional wasps in your garden, it is nothing to worry about, it's  a healthy sign.  Predatory and parasitic wasps are not aggressive and will only sting if you disturb their nest or attack them.

Flowering lettuce also help attract insects.

If you're going to create a garden and be outside in the sunshine you have to expect to come across other living creatures.  Don't be scared of them.  Like us, they're a part of the beautiful natural scheme of things and have a role to play in our world.  If you're a new gardener, do some online research to educate yourself about what to expect in your region.  Work with the natural elements, not against them and you'll be rewarded.

Nasturtiums and yarrow.

Now you know what bugs you want in your garden, how do you get them there.  Flowers!  The insects will come if you plant the flowers they love.  Beneficial flowers include:
  • Cosmos
  • Daisies, including echinacea, feverfew, chrysanthemums, gerberas and chamomile  
  • Red clover
  • Queen Anne's Lace
  • Carrot flowers
  • Dill flowers
  • Marigolds
  • Alyssum
  • Nasturtiums
  • Yarrow
Most insects need water, so put out a small container, off the ground, full of pebbles or stones so the insects can land and leave the water safely. It would be best placed in a protected area, like under a tree, or close to some herbs. They'll need some pebbles to land on so they don't drown.  That would be an excellent project for the children.  It would get them involved in the garden and it could be their job to refill the water container, keep it clean and make sure there is the right amount of water and pebbles.

Gardening, particularly organic gardening, is not just planting seeds and watering; it's more involved than that.  It's all these little things that make the difference between a garden and a productive healthy garden.  And the thing about gardening is you learn something new every year, you never know it all, but even in those first few years, it gives rewards and pleasures that will bring you back year after year.


  1. very useful post..we won't be gardening yet here in the states as its still winter but are planning for this year....

  2. This is really interesting learning about the important of bugs in the garden :) :) I never would have realized just how important flowers are. That's a really good tip!!! Thank you for all the info and the links to the various websites :) Love and hugs from Oregon, Heatehr :)

  3. Great post as usual. It was odd and yet encouraging to see that most of the flowers I already plant were beneficial to my yard. Thanks!

  4. I am a novice gardener (heading into my 3rd-ish year now) but I got the message about growing plenty of flowers in your garden for the good bugs right from the start in the books I read. Borage was an excellent addition to my garden last year, but one thing none of the books told me was that borage is VERY SPINY!!! Every time I bumped into it, yowch!! This year, I'll plant it with that knowledge.

    Another thing you can do, other than plant specific flowers, is let some of your vegetables that don't normally bloom, go to bloom. I left a broccoli plant to bolt, and it was the favorite of bees in my garden last year!

  5. Hi Rhonda Jean,

    Thanks so much for all the wonderful information. I, for one, have made it my ambition to educate my grandchildren and other children about the need for insects., kind of like the Johnny Appleseed of insects. Their parents had by example taught them to be afraid of all insects and I'm happy to say that now they are curious about most insects and even spiders. They even bring me "dead bugs" for us to study. I've taught them not to kill insects; only bringing those that have already died. I've made special little boxes to house the bugs and we get them out to study whenever they come to visit. We have lots of fun reading about insects in my huge collection of books and what fun quizzing them about why some insects have long hairy legs or short wings, etc. I've made sure to explain to them that they are allowed to touch most insects, but no spiders or bees since it's unpredictable whether the spiders and bees will be friendly, so best to leave them alone.

    It's always fun to be with grandchildren, but it's even more fun when you can make learning fun. I know you're going to be a really wonderful grandparent. I can't wait to hear the tales of your experiences with them.

    Diane in North Carolina

  6. I did research and decided to plant marigolds and nasturtiums among my plants this year. :) We really didn't have a big problem with bad bugs last year, but I figure beneficial flowers can only help! Plus they'll add variety and beauty to our garden. Thanks for the post! We're getting ready for garden season here, and posts like this are very inspiring.

  7. your garden photos are always inspiring. thanks for this post!

  8. We are very lucky to have native bees and they are often the ones that pollinate our orange trees as they are growing close to the grevilleas and bottlebrushes. On our windy hill the native bees don't mind the breezes but the honey bees aren't fond of being blown about! Now I'm curious to identify our little visitors :D.

  9. I often let my lettuces and other veggies bloom for a couple of weeks before I replace them. We've had a lot of dragonflies this summer for the first time ever (our garden is only 19 months old) and the cherubs love them. I do too!

  10. Last year my tomatoes were terrible as the caterpillars attacked them all. This year, I planted Roma Tomatoes and then planted basil on either side of them in the vegie garden & I have had a bumper of a crop. The only pest I have had is the brush tail possum eating some but I have so many tomatoes that it can have some too!

  11. Great post, thank you!! Any tips for brassica and the dreaded cabbage butterfly other than the eggshell/white bread tab idea? They are my main pest. The others are ok.

  12. Last year we also planted some flowers and I have to say: great! We have had a lot bumblelees and ladybugs. How nice to see them work beside of you!

    Lovely week!

    Greets from Holland.

  13. I've never forgotten the rows of marigolds my parents planted in our vegetable garden in West Virginia (USA)when I was a child and how beneficial they were in growing healthy veggies. Also, I think the new photo of yourself you've put on this week is your best one yet, Rhonda. Blessings from an extremely hot Cape Town.

  14. Oh this is one of my favorite topics! Nasturtiums are a favorite of mine- they go in with the cucumbers and squashes. Yours look beautiful. What varieties do you have?
    I'm planting rue this year, because you can make an organic, natural insecticide from it (though it is toxic to ingest.)
    Bees go crazy for lemon balm- they love the smell. Some bee keepers rub their hives with lemon balm to attract bees or keep the current bees happy.
    Borage is great for strawberries.
    Chives, onions, and garlic are wonderful for roses.
    Bee balm/bergamot is a great companion for tomatoes and attracts beneficial wasps (for those disgusting hornworms) and honey bees.
    Different types of marigolds play different parts in the garden. Bush varieties attracts beneficial insects, and one variety I'm planting fights against nematodes.
    The tall variety actually acts as a barrier to many pests.
    There is so much more to learn! It's wonderful to actually work with nature rather than going at it with the guns loaded. There is a balance to everything, and you constantly learn about that balance in the garden.
    The Girl in the Pink Dress

  15. I put a few pot marigolds at the end of each raised bed last year, for the first time, and as well as making the plot look nice and cheerful, we did have really good crops with no insect damage, so I will certainly do this again. I grew them from seed, in small modules and planted them out when the plants were a few inches high. Easy!

  16. I have just purchased a book called 'BUG' - The Ultimate Gardeners Guide to Organic Pest Control by Tim Marshall. It is specifically written for Australian Gardeners and is absolutely fanstastic!

  17. I'm just retrying a garden this year- starting out with sheet composted beds I started last fall.

    I'll be back here often, as your garden appears both stunning and productive. I like your attitude on bugs - with three little girls to cultivate a love of nature and the garden in, a love of bugs needs to be included as well.

    looking forward to seeing your season unfold and learning lots.

  18. Great post! I am wondering if any of you would recognize this little's a small looking beetle with yellow spots over it. I found several in my garden last year and never could figure out who he was. He didn't seem to disturb anything, but I would still love to know what he is.

  19. Hi, Rhonda. We are exploring this topic in our 3rd spring garden here in Texas right now. We planted some marigolds among our vegetables our first year just because I found them beautiful and we had virtually no pest problems. Last year, with a 6 month old, I just never got around to planting the marigolds. It was all I could do to get the vegetables in the ground! Consequently, we lost all our cucumber, squash and zucchini to pests and our tomatoes and okra suffered.

    I did some reading about beneficial insects and, this year, we're bringing back the marigolds and adding borage, dill, and many other beneficial flowers. I'm very excited to see the results, especially since we don't use chemicals on our plants.

  20. This is such great information, I am just about to plant into the raised garden bed I got for Christmas. Thanks :D

  21. Rhonda Jean,

    I love this! I recently moved from the city to country NSW and am an absolute garden beginner who is constantly battling bad bugs. One problem I am really having trouble with is ants in my chicken coop (I have three chooks). I change the hay regularly but no matter what, the ants come back. I don't want to resort to chemicals and was wondering if you have any other ideas?

  22. I've never had ants go after my straw before. Follow the ants back to their nest and pouring boiling water in. You'll have to do it a few times, but eventually they'll either die out or move to a more comfortable area.


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