Attracting Beneficial Bugs, Birds and Butterflies

Good bugs are a natural army of pest control allies, so it is important to provide them with suitable living conditions to gain their help. In order to reproduce, beneficial insects need nectar and pollen. If they don’t find it in a garden (and they are very particular— just any old flowers won’t do), they leave and usually do not return.

butterfly
A fourth-grade visitor to Lotusland unintentionally
attracts a butterfly.

For example, syrphid (flower) flies must feed on pollen or nectar to mature their eggs. Many other insects use pollen and nectar to sustain them, which allows them to survive longer, produce more progeny, and provide a higher level of biological control. Having these flowering plants available to provide supplementary food can greatly increase the beneficial activities of these natural enemies.

But the majority of plants produce flowers that are not accessible to insects whose mouthparts are shorter than other, more well known, nectar feeders (such as bees and butterflies).

Nectar-producing flowers with short tubes (mint and cabbage families) or nectaries accessible from outside the flower (legumes and spurges) are two kinds that provide sustenance to a wide range of insects. Plants that produce many flowers in a single head (sunflower family and carrot family) are also very attractive to beneficial insects.

Designing a beneficial insect planting entails providing them with a year-round, supplemental source of food (pollen, nectar, and sometimes, prey), even when pest populations are low. The goal is to create refuges for the natural enemies of garden pests.

Gardeners in urban areas can have success by adding insect attracting plants to their gardens. Beneficial insects are also available for purchase and release in the garden. Careful fertilization and irrigation also help to grow healthy plants able to resist insect attacks.

Just like beneficial insects, birds should be rewarded for their part in controlling insect numbers that have gotten out of hand. It is said that 96% of all birds feed insects to their young – making them vitally important to garden ecology. Luckily, creating insect habitat can double as ideal bird habitat for many species.

A comprehensive list of bird, butterfly and beneficial insect attracting plants:
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A list of plants that attract specific butterflies:
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A list of butterflies that are seen at Lotusland:
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