Some nature lovers enjoy ladybugs. Some enjoy bees. And some enjoy butterflying. Creating a habitat for ladybugs, bees, and butterflies takes some knowledge, planning, digging, and planting. But it’s worth the work. And it’s an interesting summer project while you wait on the world to reopen. Don’t forget about the praying mantis and other helpful insects.
But first, do some reading and research about your region. Learn more about your local climate, soil conditions, and food for your beneficial bug buddies.
Why native plants for backyard bugging? “Native plants provide nectar for pollinators including hummingbirds, native bees, butterflies, moths, and bats. They provide protective shelter for many mammals. The native nuts, seeds, and fruits produced by these plants offer essential foods for all forms of wildlife.” Visit www.audubon.org.
The shiny and round red bug with black spots on its back is beloved by many. What do ladybugs eat? According to an article in National Geographic, most ladybugs eat aphids.
Like the ladybug, mantis have enormous appetites. These scary looking insets munch on aphids, leafhoppers, mosquitoes, caterpillars and other soft-bodied insects. As they mature, they crunch on beetles, grasshoppers, crickets, and other pest insects. But, the fickle mantis will devour beneficial bugs when hungry.
Worker bees gather both pollen and nectar from flowers. Nectar is the sweet fluid produced by flowers. Yummy! Bees convert the nectar into honey. I planted two new bee balm plants this summer.
I updated my plant paradise for the beneficial bugs. Food comes first, so I fertilized the soil for healthy plants. Online, I purchased compact butterfly bushes in colors of pink, lavender, and white. My outdoor space for sun is limited and regular Buddleia (pronounced BUD-lee-ah) takes up lots of room, so I went with the smaller version of cultivars. Shazam! Butterfly bushes are magnets for nectar-seeking bugs. Monarchs love milkweed.
What about other insects? Spiders catch and eat flies. Let their webs do the work. The yellow garden spider looks stunning and menacing at the same time. My grandmother called these harmless to humans arachnids “writing spiders” because of the visible zigzagging X-shaped pattern.
The lacewing has a voracious appetite for aphids, mites, mealybugs, thrips, and white flies. Dragonflies gobble flies, gnats, and mosquitoes. Any insect that swallows mosquitoes is my friend as well as any creature that snacks on grubs and slugs. And there is an open invitation for toads to attend my insect-eating contest.
Let’s have a word on worms. By definition, earthworms are animals, but not insects. Who knew? However, these creepy crawlers are favorite guests for the compost bin. Kudos to these wiggly pinkish-brownish tubular life forms.
EcoWatch website informs us that one of the most familiar of earthworms, the sort you may see in your garden, is commonly known as the night crawler (it typically surfaces after dark). Other commoners include the angleworm (its makes popular bait for fishing) and the rain worm (it leaves waterlogged soil after storms).
Corral the kids and grandma and start a habitat for beneficial bugs in your own backyard.
Melissa Martin, Ph.D., is an author, columnist, educator, and therapist. She lives in southern Ohio.