Gardening Tips: The good, the bad and the ugly insects, by Master Gardener Judy Jean

As springtime approaches, gardeners eagerly prepare their landscapes for a season of growth and abundance. However, with the warmer weather and increased rainfall, bugs also come out of their winter slumber and begin their search for food and shelter. While some of these insects can be beneficial to gardens, others can cause significant damage. Let’s take a closer look at some of the beneficial bugs and harmful bugs found during springtime gardening.

Beneficial Bugs

Insects are often considered pests in our homes and gardens, but not all insects are created equal. In fact, many insects play a vital role in maintaining the health and beauty of our home landscapes. From pollinators to pest controllers, these beneficial insects help keep our gardens thriving. Let’s take a closer look at some of the most beneficial insects in the home landscape.
Ladybugs: Ladybugs, also known as lady beetles, are a common sight in gardens and are highly beneficial to plants. They feed on pests such as aphids, mites, and whiteflies, which can damage plant foliage and reduce crop yields. Ladybugs are also effective in controlling the spread of plant diseases. You can attract ladybugs to your garden by planting dill, fennel, and other plants in the carrot family, which are a favorite food of ladybug larvae.
Bees: Bees are perhaps the most well-known pollinators in the world. They are essential for the production of fruits and vegetables, as well as many other plants in our landscapes. Without bees, we would see a significant decline in food production and a loss of biodiversity in our gardens. Encouraging bees in our gardens can be as simple as planting a variety of flowering plants and avoiding the use of harmful pesticides.
Butterflies: Butterflies are another important pollinator in the home landscape. They are attracted to a wide variety of flowering plants and particularly fond of milkweed, the host plant for monarch butterflies. By planting a mix of native plants, you can attract a diverse range of butterfly species to your garden.
Dragonflies: Dragonflies are voracious predators that feed on mosquitoes, flies, and other small insects. They are attracted to water, so adding a water feature to your landscape can help attract these beneficial insects. Dragonflies also effectively control pest populations in and around ponds and other water features.

Harmful Bugs

Aphids: Aphids are small, soft-bodied insects that feed on the sap of plants, causing stunted growth, curled leaves, yellowing foliage, and can also transmit plant viruses. They reproduce quickly and can quickly become a major problem in a garden. You can control aphids with insecticidal soap or neem oil, or by encouraging natural predators such as ladybugs and lacewings.
Cutworms: Cutworms are the larvae of several species of moth and feed on the stems of seedlings, causing them to wilt and die. They are most active at night and can quickly destroy a newly planted garden. Granulated cutworms have been observed to attack these vegetables: bean, beet, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrot, cauliflower, celery, corn, cowpea, eggplant, kale, lettuce, onion, pea, pepper, potato, radish, spinach, sweet potato, tomato, turnip, and watermelon. Other crops reported injured include peach and strawberry.
Scale Insects: Scale insects are small, immobile pests that attach themselves to the stems and leaves of plants. They feed on sap and excrete a sticky substance called honeydew, which can attract ants and cause black sooty mold to grow.
Spider Mites: Spider mites are tiny pests that can be difficult to spot with the naked eye. They feed on the underside of leaves, causing a stippled appearance and eventually turning leaves yellow or brown. Severe infestations can cause plant death.
Whiteflies: Whiteflies are small, flying insects that feed on the sap of plants. They can cause yellowing and wilting of leaves and transmit plant viruses. You can control whiteflies with insecticidal soap or by encouraging natural predators such as ladybugs and lacewings.
Springtime gardening is an exciting time for gardeners, but it also brings with it a host of bugs that can either help or harm your garden. By understanding the role that these insects play in the ecosystem and knowing how to identify them, you can take the necessary steps to protect your plants and ensure a bountiful harvest. Remember, not all bugs are bad, and some can actually be beneficial to your garden, so always take the time to observe and identify the insects in your garden before taking any action.
Florida Friendly Landscaping™ Principles encourages the responsible use of beneficial insects in our home landscapes (Manage Yard Pests Responsibly). By encouraging the presence of these insects, we can reduce the need for harmful pesticides and create a more sustainable and diverse ecosystem in our gardens. Planting various flowering plants (Right Plant, Right Place), avoiding harmful chemicals, and creating a water feature that allows you to water efficiently are all great ways to attract beneficial insects to your garden (Attract Wildlife & Water Efficiently). By working with nature, we can create a beautiful and healthy home landscape that benefits both ourselves and the environment.

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    If you have any plant-related questions or need gardening advice, don’t hesitate to reach out to your UF/IFAS Extension Flagler County Master Gardeners. They can be reached through UF/IFAS Extension Flagler office, email, or our new Facebook Page – Flagler County Master Gardeners. So, if you need help with your garden or have any questions, don’t hesitate to stop by your UF/IFAS Extension Flagler office or reach out to your local Master Gardeners.