Most Bugs Are Beneficial in Your Garden

By George Graine, Fairfax Master Gardener
“Pure soft water is the most potent of all insecticides.”
— James Shirley Hibberd in “The Amateur’s Flower Garden” (1884)

So, you are outside totally transfixed while looking at your prize rose bush when you notice a shiny green bug chomping away on the petals. You yell, “Quick, Henry, the Flit!” If you do not remember this really old advertisement, it was the yesteryear bug killer of flies and skeeters. Try doing a computer search as this is an interesting story. Fortunately we have come a long way from this type of treatment for bugs. In years past, having bugs was considered evil or needed to be eradicated by any means available. A fly swatter or butterfly net was not good enough, so the solution was often to kill ‘em all with some pesticide spray. We did not fully appreciate beneficial bugs except for bees and butterflies. These days we know and understand that all bugs serve a purpose. Using the word bug for all types of bug-like creatures is technically incorrect; however, for simplicity let’s leave it that way.

Beneficial Bugs book coverAn interesting factoid is that only one percent of the bug population is harmful. No one knows how many bug species exist on the planet. It could be up to 20 million, and of those only one million have been named. Studies have shown that there is a natural balance happening in the garden where the good bugs are eating the bad ones in order to survive and reproduce. The conundrum, if you can call it that, is to try and balance the ecosystem or as garden writer Jessica Walliser writes, “… in order to sustain a healthy population of predators in the garden, one always has to have prey available.” The problem is creating this balance without inserting ourselves into the natural “battle” that is taking place. In the final analysis of good bug — bad bug in your garden, here is the solution. “… beneficial insects have the ability to learn to see your yard as one where they can successfully find habitat, prey, pollen and nectar –- that is of course if you are willing to make it such a place.” Entomologists claim that only 1 percent of bugs do damage whereas 99 percent are either beneficial or do no harm.

The American Horticultural Society gave Jessica Walliser an award for her book Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden: A Natural Approach to Pest Control (Timber Press, 2014). Note, too, that this book has a generous