Most of us have grown up to view most insects as being something to eliminate, and I’m here to encourage you to see them for what they are, well most of them anyway, and that is beneficial. Let’s explore 9 garden pests that you may want to protect, and how you can do that.
9 “Garden Pests” You May Want to Protect
Who grew up with a family member who screamed and ran when they saw a “bug?”
Ya me too. My mom would yell for my dad whenever any spider was found around her. Unfortunately, she would also be the person to sprinkle harmful powders all over her flowers or tomato plants because she saw “bugs.”
Thankfully she learned how a lot of these “pests” were actually friends, not foes. I’m here to show you that very same thing. All I ask is that you have an open mind. 🙂
1. Monarch butterfly caterpillar
The caterpillar, which is technically called a butterfly or moth’s larvae, can be destructive, I’ll agree. But if you just realize they are only eating to become that gorgeous butterfly, it might cause you to give them some grace.
We all love the pretty butterfly. Most of us seem to be attached to remembering the Monarch around in summer during our childhoods. If someone were to ask you to think of a butterfly, most of you would picture this gorgeous orange creature.
Yet this gorgeous creature started as a butterfly that munched it’s way up and down the leaves of a milkweed plant. This is their only host plant, which is why their numbers have sadly declined over the years.
Unfortunately, some people actually don’t like caterpillars and try to eliminate them from the garden.
PLEASE DON’T DO THIS!
For one, the Monarch needs all the help it can get. And for two, what are you going to do with that milkweed anyway? Not to mention that their cycle from egg to adult is only about 30 days, so they aren’t around long.
We need this beautiful butterfly as they are incredible pollinators. And we need them because they are a staple to our summer childhoods and one of the most amazing butterflies on the planet.
All you need to do to protect them is to let some milkweed grow in your ditch or an area saved for it, and step back and watch nature happen.
Caterpillars are also a great source of food for those beautiful birds and hungry babies around your yard. They are a vital part of the food chain and definitely not garden pests!
2. Swallowtail butterfly caterpillar
This is probably the second most popular butterfly we all think of when we hear that word, and with good reason. There are almost 30 different species of Swallowtails in the United States. At least a few different kinds will grace your flowers during the season.
Unfortunately, their host plants are usually the things we plant in our garden to eat.
Dill, fennel, and parsley are some of their favorites, along with several other plants and tree varieties.
Remember, they need to eat too, and they will become a beautiful butterfly to pollinate their world soon!
My suggestion is to either plant extra of these easy-to-grow plants or let someone come take them to raise them.
You can post on social media that you need someone to come to take these awesome caterpillars. I know you’d have at least a few of your nature-loving friends coming to rescue them!
I’ve raised these on parsley, rue, and prickly ash before, and its always a joy to watch them grow. So please, give these “garden pests” a chance! 🙂
3. Ladybug or Ladybird beetle
I think most people know that ladybugs are beneficial, but they deserve a spot just in case you weren’t sure.
This pretty red beetle is an eating machine in your garden. A mature ladybug will eat 20-25 aphids a day, and a later-stage one will consume 10 times more than that!
They also can eat mealybugs, scale, thrips, and caterpillars. (A lot of things eat caterpillars. Even though I may not like that part, it’s all apart of the food chain!)
If their prey is unavailable to them, they will eat pollen. So ladybugs are pollinators too. Definitely not garden pests, and to some, they are considered good luck.
Note that native ladybugs are bright red with noticeable black spots. The Asian is more light to dark orange in color with or without dark spots on the body.
I love this cute little bee-looking insect. Referred to by my family and me as the hover bee or sweat bee, it literally hovers like a hummingbird.
These cute little insects DO NOT BITE OR STING, so there is no reason to fear them.
Also called flower flies or syrphid flies, the hoverfly is a great pollinator as they feed on nectar.
They also are beneficial to true garden pests, consuming aphids, mealybugs, scale, thrips, and caterpillars. (boo on that last one, haha)
The female hoverfly will actually lay her eggs right in the middle of a colony of aphids, ensuring plenty of food when they hatch! What a great mom, and what a great insect to have around!
They love a lot of your basic flowers and herbs, and the best thing to do it leave them alone and remember, they are harmless.
As a matter of fact, I’ll often let them rest on me when I’m sitting under my Maple tree. 🙂
I think these are pretty little insects as their name is legit, their wings look like lace.
You probably won’t see them often, though, as they are nocturnal and feed at night.
Their appetites are huge as they feed on true garden pests like aphids, whiteflies, mealybugs, thrips, and mites.
The way the female lays her eggs is actually pretty incredible. She lays them on the end of a hair-like filament that she creates on leaves. You may see one or several, but they are worth looking for.
She does this to protect her young, who hatch in about 3-10 days, ready to eat a ton of your garden pests!
They are attracted to all of your flowers and plants as they look for meals.
6. Dragonfly or Damselfly
I have always loved the dragonfly or damselfly. They are fun to watch flying in my garden or over the river on a lazy kayak ride.
What’s the difference? Dragonflies have wings on the sides of the body like airplane wings, while the damselfly has wings on top of the body.
Both are very beneficial to have around as they dart about the air eating hundreds of garden pests or otherwise annoying “bugs” like mosquitoes and biting flies.
They will also sit and wait patiently for their meal, and pounce when the time is perfect.
Eggs are laid near water sources, and larvae eat the larvae of other flying insects until maturity.
Their meals include gnats, flies, mosquitoes, and other insects.
They are a huge asset to keeping the mosquito population in check and can eat 30-hundreds of them a day!
Backyard water features or nearby rivers and ponds will attract them, and they will look for meals on your flowers.
7. Native bees
I can’t say enough about the native bees, as they are so beneficial. I really feel most of us know that, but again it’s worth mentioning as they are far from garden pests.
Most of us are familiar with the honey bee or bumblebee. But there are so many native varieties of bees that live near our gardens and homes. And many of them are different colors than your traditional yellow and black.
We desperately need our pollinators! And bees are excellent at doing just that, as nectar is their food source.
And honestly, they don’t seek people out to sting them. They are a peaceful insect that will truly leave you alone if you leave them alone.
If you see a bee of any kind, try not to be afraid and definitely don’t swat at it to hit it. Just walk away, and most likely, it will return to finding the nectar it was probably looking for in the first place.
Almost every single creation in this world will defend itself if it feels threatened, and the bee is included. So just use common sense, plant a lot of flowers, and let the magic happen.
Yeah, I know, the ant. While they can definitely be annoying garden pests when they end up on our food or in our houses, they are beneficial in their natural habitat.
While they aren’t very good pollinators, they often feast on garden pests such as aphids, mealybugs, fleas, flies, and, dang it, caterpillars.
They are also good for your yard as they aerate the soil. They also help fertilize plants by speeding up the decomposition of dead insects and leaves.
Hard to believe, but they are a beneficial part of a healthy garden! No, I don’t like a ton of them in my garden either, but I try to remind myself that unless they are taking over, they aren’t true garden pests.
Here we are talking about spiders again. My mom’s favorite. Not! I remember saving them from her death tissue often by putting a glass over them, slipping a paper under that, and throwing them outside.
Hollywood has helped create many fears in us for spiders. Yet, they are very beneficial to have around and are definitely not garden pests, whether you like spiders or not.
Although they are more afraid of you than you are of them (maybe, haha), they help protect our precious gardens by eating aphids, flies, wasps, grasshoppers, beetles, and almost anything that will fall into their web.
Please note that many wasps are beneficial, there are only a couple that are the nuisance ones you think of. Also, I do love grasshoppers and let them be, but I know they eat vegetation.
Also, they’d rather not be in your house, and I’m sure they feel it’s a huge mistake once they do. They are just looking for a place to hide or warmth, they don’t try to come in to scare you!
If you could learn to appreciate the spider, you could live in peace with this “insect” (the spider isn’t actually an insect). It naturally helps you greatly with your garden pests.
All we have to do it leave them alone.
So, which of these surprised you? Do you have any other “garden pests” that aren’t pests at all? Share with me by leaving a comment below. I hope you found this article helpful and enjoyable! 🙂