Renovation & Design

GARDENING: Tiny helpers

Don't assume all insects are nuisances

PHOTOS BY WAYNE ADAMS/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS/The late summer blooms of Autumn Joy sedum attract beneficial bees to the garden
The dragonfly, so welcome in our gardens, makes for a brilliant display against the vibrant yellow of a daylily.
Where are all the ladybugs? These friendly insects devour huge amounts of the not-so-favourite aphids.
Male common blue damselfly on heliopsis. These don’t sting. The nymphs are efficient predators of mosquitoes.

Whither the ladybugs?

THIS summer will be remembered by local gardeners, in part, for the remarkable absence of mosquitoes. Noticeably absent, too, though, have been ladybugs. The Lost Ladybug Project ( enlists both kids and adults in helping to identify the many different species that are overtaking the habitats of native species.

In today's article, Jeannette Adams reminds us that in our changing world, insects play an important role in the ecosystem and cautions against overzealous fall cleanup.

Dr. Terry Galloway of the department of entomology at the University of Manitoba, says: "Gardeners in Manitoba have been treated to a wonderful abundance and diversity of dragonflies this year. Although they are unlikely to have a significant impact on numbers of mosquitoes in your garden, you can learn a lot by observing their behaviour and take comfort in their company as you work."

Fall is the perfect time to plant for spring and summer blooms. In next week's column, Ted Sobkowicz of the Manitoba Regional Lily Society will give tips on planting some of the most beautiful varieties of peony as well as the more rare Spuria iris, with gorgeous photos by Eleanor Hutchison, local iris judge and Sandra Eggertson, certified iris grower.

-- Colleen Zacharias


When gardeners discuss insects, they usually focus on how to control or eradicate the pests that are damaging desirable plants.

Considering that insects form the largest group of all living creatures and less than five per cent are harmful, it appears more attention should be paid to the beneficial bugs.

The term beneficial often carries a human bias. Alfalfa leaf-cutting bees are highly beneficial to growers of alfalfa, but to someone who is growing roses and sees the bees chewing neat circles out of the leaves, these bees are an unwanted pest.

Most people recognize the benefits of attracting bees, butterflies and lady beetles to the garden, but what about hover flies, parasitic insects and ground beetles?

There are many insects that are present in our yards and we don't even notice them. We notice the foes and look for ways to eliminate them, which usually involves the application of some chemical product. Since the use of pesticides is becoming a less desirable choice, gardeners are looking for alternative methods. By creating a balanced environment we can allow nature to take care of its problems.

Striving to create a balanced environment requires patience as well as acceptance of imperfections. In order to attract beneficial insects as well as other interesting creatures to our yards, we need to provide a diverse habitat by choosing plants that provide an ongoing source of food. Consider planting some early-blooming shrubs such as double-flowering plum, lilacs and dogwood to attract the pollinators.

Include perennials, native prairie flowers and herbs that have fragrant, composite flowers along with plants in the daisy and carrot family. Some plants to consider include alyssum, cosmos, daisies, coneflowers, asters, dill, lovage, and sea holly. Including the late-flowering plants sedum, eupatorium and rudbeckia will ensure insects have nectar into the early fall.

Another requirement of a balanced environment is water. Birds and insects will be attracted to a water feature. If you have a pond, provide some shallow, pebbly areas where insects can rest and sip. Ensure that all water features do not become stagnant and a source of mosquitoes, definitely a foe insect.

All creatures require shelter from unpleasant weather.

If you have a diverse environment with a variety of trees, shrubs and flowering plants, these will provide protection from wind and rain during the summer, but what about the winter? Here we run into a problem of balance.

The same conditions that will protect the lady beetles may also provide protection for some unwanted pests. You will have to decide how meticulous you are when doing your fall clean-up. If you want some of your friendly bugs to hang around, you may have to leave a messy corner in your yard where these creatures can spend the winter. Keeping your plants healthy will lessen problems with disease and insect infestations. Also, avoid the use of pesticides as these kill the good with the bad.

Nature has a way of rebelling and some insects such as the Colorado potato beetle will become resistant to the pesticides used against them.

Now that you have created your insectary, what friends can you expect? You should expect to see a greater number of bees and butterflies, especially if you have included some native prairie flowers and grasses.

1. Syrphid or hover flies are often mistaken for bees or wasps. They are great pollinators, and their larvae feed on aphids, thrips and small caterpillars.

2. Parasitic insects include numerous families of wasps and flies. These insects lay their eggs inside aphids or caterpillars. When these eggs hatch, the insect will consume and destroy the host insect. Many of these insects are tiny and do not sting.

3. Lady beetles are a familiar friend in the garden where they feed on aphids. However, it is the unattractive larvae that will devour colonies of aphids. Provide an overwintering shelter for these insects by leaving mulch or dry leaves near areas that have had aphid problems.

4. Ground beetles are hard-shelled, flightless black beetles that feed mostly at night. They are found in moist, dark places under debris and rocks, which is the same environment slugs favour. Slugs cause damage to plants by eating the leaves, especially of hosta. Cutworms prefer vegetable crops and chew off the young plants at ground level. The larvae as well as the adult ground beetle will feed on these pests.

5. Dragonflies and damselflies are efficient predators. There are numerous types in Manitoba that have a variety of feeding habits. The nymphs live in active bodies of water and if mosquito larvae are present, they may be eaten. The adults tend be most active during the day, so are not as effective in controlling mosquitoes.

These are but a few of the many friendly insects that will help a gardener work towards creating a balanced environment. Become familiar with not only the adult form, but also the nymphal or larval stages of insects. Be vigilant and watch for signs of feeding on your plants, but before you decide to spray or squash the creature, consider whether it is a foe or friend.

Jeannette Adams is a master gardener who hopes to encourage gardeners to create diverse gardens that will provide a more balanced environment.


Join William Brearley of Vanhof & Blokker for a presentation on new bulb introductions, 1 p.m. at Shelmerdine Garden Centre.


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