Attracting the Good Bugs to your Garden

bene bugsPeople often marvel at the beautiful flowers surrounding the Community Garden at Holy Nativity.  We explain that they are all working flowers — they have an important function within our garden.

As an organic vegetable gardener, maintaining a rich diversity of life within your garden ecosystem is viatally important.  “Pest control” becomes all about the natural balance of life.

Learn which bugs are friends and which are foes.  Insects have many life stages (instar stages), and some bugs look vastly different at different times in their growth cycle.  Case in point is the well-known beneficial ladybug, which as a “teenager” looks like a black spiky monster you’d want to crush.  Some of our favorite field guides include Charles Hogue’s Insects of the Los Angeles Basin, Rodale (Barbara Ellis) Organic Gardener’s Handbook of Natural Insect and Disease Control, Allison Starcher’s Good Bugs for your Garden, and Peter J Bryant’s Butterflies of Orange County website.

1) Hospitality.  The National Wildlife Federation’s Backyard Wildlife Habitat program teaches home gardeners to provide the basics that any critter needs:  Food, Water, Cover, Shelter, and a Place to Raise Young.  Las Pilitas native plant nursery expands this list to include open ground, nectar sources, fruit, seeds, and annual wildflower seed.

2) Protection.  Protect your ecosystem by gardening organically.  Chemicals (of any sort, whether herbicide, pesticide, or “fertilizer”) are not beneficial to a rich soil life population.  And rich, healthy, alive garden soil is the foundation of your organic garden.

3) Think native plants.  “Our native plants, having evolved here, are ideally suited to perform such ecological services as manufacturing oxygen and filtering impurities from our water.  These plants also do the best job of providing food and shelter for native wild animals.  Plants are a cornerstone of biological diversity.  Biodiversity is vital to humans, because our survival depends on the earth and its life forms”– California Native Plant Society.

“Most of the population of California lives in the Coastal Sage Scrub plant community” says Las

California native plant sources:  Larner Seeds online ordering, Theodore Payne Foundation in Sun Valley.

4) Think diversity.  The more, the merrier.  Different critters need different things — some need nectar, others need seed, still others need the rich layer just beneath the mulch.  Provide ’em all.

5) Think year-round.  You want to provide the basic ingredients (food, water, cover, shelter, place to raise young) every month of the year.  It’s easy to do in springtime when everything bursts into rollicking bloom.  But think about August and September and January too.

At the Community Garden at Holy Nativity, we used the “Beneficial Insect Attractant” seed mix from Bountiful Gardens catalog to begin our functional flower borders, but have added other plants to that combination throughout the years.  The Bountiful Gardens mix includes blanketflower, yarrow, cilantro, California poppies, borage, bishop’s flower, calendula, and feverfew, to name a few I can remember.  We have added calendula, alyssium, cosmos, sunflowers, amaranth, shasta daisy, salvia leucantha, Calif native white sage, and Calif native tidy tips, among other things.

Attracting Specific Critters

If you wish to attract specific critters, you need to provide the habitat and diet they prefer.

Anise Swallowtail butterfly Wild fennel** (Foeniculum vulgare), blossoms of the carrot family … Read more atLas Pilitas and Bryant
Buckeye butterfly Snapdragons, Monkey flower* (Mimulus spp), Plantain**  … Read more atLas Pilitas and Bryant
Monarch butterfly Milkweed** (Asclepias spp)
Checkerspot butterflies Tidy Tips* (Layia platyglossa) … Available at Larner Seed
Mourning Cloak butterfly Elm, willow, birch, poplar, floss silk tree … Read more at Bryant
Painted Lady, West Coast Lady butterflies Cheeseweed** (Malva parviflora), Lupines* … Read more at Las Pilitas and Bryant
Hummingbirds Salvia spp, especially red and purple forms of Salvia gregii, Salvia elegans, Salvia leucantha, Salvia ‘Waverly’;Lobelia cardinalis*;Zauschneria* … For a list of Calif. native plants see Las Pilitas
Hoverflies (a group of essential pollinating insects) Meadowfoam* (Limnanthes douglasii) … Available atLarner Seed
* a California native plant
** plant often destroyed as a “weed”

About envirochangemakers

We are a community group in the Westchester neighborhood of Los Angeles (LA 90045 near LAX airport). Founded in 2005, we offer classes, events, and community gatherings focused on building a resilient future. We are part of the international Transition Network.
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