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Good plants for beneficial insects

 
gardener
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Hello everyone,

So my mushroom compost is generally going very well, so I am starting to think of other areas where I can improve my garden and I was thinking about planting something to attract beneficial insects.  Deborah Epstein has given me the idea of planting crimson clover for attracting bees, and I was wondering what might help attract predatory insects.  My garden beds have grassy paths about 5’ around them, but on one side is tall field grass.  I was thinking I could plant strip of beneficial insect attracting plants in that field grass area.  Any and all suggestions are welcome.

It would be awesome if I could attract something that likes to devour aphids and squash bugs!!

Eric
 
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Last month I read Great Garden Companions by Sally Jean Cunningham, and she discusses plants to attract beneficial insects to length in the book. It has a nicely done multi-page chart in the back of the book listing the names of plants, growing tips, and what they attract divided into categories such as annual, perennial, herbs, etc. I used this book as one of my guides to order flower seeds a couple days ago that I will be planting in my garden this year along side my usual edible vegetables I like to grow. Some flowers I ordered for the sole purpose of attracting pollinators and predatory insects are:

Yarrow
Lovage
Tansy
Aster
Calendula
Sweet Alyssum
Zinnia
Bee Balm
Borage
Chrysanthemum (not the commercial hybrid varieties)
Daisies
Chamomile

There are lots of bugs that eat aphids and some are lady bugs, ground beetles, soldier beetle, assassin bugs and more. The big-eyed bugs (Geocoris punctipes), damsel bug and scelionid wasps are a few that will prey on squash bugs. One thing that attracts a lot of predatory insects like certain wasps and tachinid flies are plants that have umbel flowers; those super tiny flowers that grow in little round almost umbrella shaped clusters, like queen annes lace or wild carrot. Herbs like dill, fennel, parsley and cilantro make umbels and letting some go to flower in a garden will attract beneficial insects.


 
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While you can search out particular beneficial bugs and then the plants that support them, it's easier to just plant lots of things that support beneficials in general.  If you search the permaculture nurseries for "insectiary" plants it's a good start.  

I like things with small flowers (dill, fennel, alliums, chives) because I've heard they attract predatory wasps.  Flowers in general are good.  There are many bee friendly plants, borage, comfrey, bee balm, etc.  

So my vote is for variety and a focus on perennials.  
 
Eric Hanson
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Thanks guys,

Well, part of the good news is that I have a couple of these that are already growing on their own.  Queen Anne’s Lace grows quite well in my field.  I also have some wild Black Eyed Susan’s nearby and I wouldn’t mind planting some pink coneflowers.  Daisies also grow well by me.  

Actually, maybe I should really tailor to getting some squash bug predators as they do far more damage than aphids.

Big thanks again,

Eric
 
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Parsnips and anise hyssop see to get lots o traffic
 
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I start a lot of ornamental bedding plants each spring for my little market nursery, and usually use the extras to fill in empty spaces in the gardens, which has helped attract beneficial insects.
Alyssum makes a good ground cover, and pollinators love it, as do the parasitic wasps & ladybugs.
Bumblebees, honeybees, wasps, etc seem to love the marigolds, zinnias, periwinkles, and petunias.
The feathery blooms of celosia make a good hiding place for the smaller beneficials.
The bugs also seem to like it when I stick random herbs around the garden, instead of just in the herb bed.
Hardy hibiscus is a perennial that also sets a lot of seed, so I'm always putting them in random places to cover the ground and provide biomass, but I get a lot of ladybugs on them, and pollinators like the big blooms.
Portulacas make nice ground over that tolerates foot traffic, but I've also found lacewings, dragonflies, and bees tend to like them.

I know a lot of permies tend to avoid the ornamentals because they aren't edible but, for me, they're a valuable resource that I have access to, so I make use of the plants I don't use for the market. Besides being a cheap source of seeds & transplants, most of them are tough, and will bloom for the entire growing season; which birds & bugs seem to like. They take well to frequent pruning for mulch, and many types are eager to reseed; which saves time & money from year to year. Not to mention, they're pretty to look at, which adds to the enjoyment of being out in the garden.
 
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I am also interested in the concept of good plant for beneficial insect. I have just read a mag. article "why natural insect control works better" by Harvey Ussery. The gist being if you attract alot of insects you will get enough predators. So plant flowering and shelter plants in your garden with your crops. I like this idea, I am kind of tired of just growing beans/pea/collard/pepper/ect. Now I am working on a list of plants that I would like grow. I think this thread will be helpful. (first post on this website please forgive any blunders)
 
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Welcome, Bruce!

Eric, I was just noting that the cilantro that i let go to flower was covered in stingless bees yesterday. I like to leave a few bolt because the bees (and other associates) seem to enjoy them. Basil as well.
 
Bruce Fisher
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thank you Teresa, That is a good idea. I have in the past let some plants bolt for the pollinators to feed, but now with the mind set of attracting all types of insects I think I will let more bolt and flower. This also addresses the next issue I had and that was timing. I wanted to have the first flowers present in the early spring (here late Feb./early March). I will try to let some the cilantro/collards/kale,radishes/arugula bolt, that with the blueberries should be a good start.

 
Mike Haasl
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Broccoli is a great bee lure.  After we harvest the main head and the side shoots, if the copious littler side shoots start flowering, we just let them.  They can handle the frost so I see bees on them till they quit flying.
 
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To my mind, planting something that would attract the predators of aphids and squash bugs would be something that would attract aphids and squash bugs.
 
Bruce Fisher
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I must be getting slower, but I am starting to connect the "dots" here. Steve, I see your mindset and have to agree, that would be a good plan. Now what if We flipped the question? I once bought a vine for the flower, but the caterpillars ate it to the stems and I had tonnes of butterflies that summer and fall ( I liked the butterflies better than the flower). This continued for a couple of years then I started having lots of vines, still had tonnes of butterflies, but caterpillars were scarce.The balance of prey/predator had shifted. "IF" I wanted more caterpillars would I spray an insecticide on the vines before the eggs were laid, OR cut the vines down (before the eggs are laid to starve predators),then let the vines regrow, OR something else??
 
Steve Mendez
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I am probably the slow one here, and certainly don't understand all the ramifications of a keeping an organic garden in balance. I just had trouble understanding how planting something that attracts more aphids and squash bugs to a garden in order to attract the predators of these troublesome insects makes sense.
Unless the bad insects find the lure plants more attractive than the crop you want to protect. Which I think is your point,Bruce.
Reading these forums has provided me with a lot of useful information.
 
Bruce Fisher
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Yes Steve, I am planning to have hopefully an aphid crop on lure plants and these aphids will be a different type than would feed on my peas and beans, These aphid would be the food source to grow a population of predators before peas and beans start setting fruit. The predators would then protect the pea/beans. Sounds kinda like a fantasy plan that could backfire. If I can find the right lure crop I will try it.
 
pollinator
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Almost all herbs, almost anything  that blooms.  Avoid the ones used as insect repellents and you are good mostly.  The next question is what else it does for you?  Does it fix nitrogen?  Does it have market value in your area?  Does it improve your diet?  Not saying the other things are required but if your space is small they should be.
 
Bruce Fisher
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So, I have now read a couple of books, some mag./online articles about beneficial and attracting them to the garden. The authors point out the need to diversity of blooms, size, shape, and time to appeal to many different types of wasp, flies, and other predators. With the plantings either on the border, in rows with crops, or plant intermixed within rows.
  This season I will let the wild winter weeds and grasses bloom for the early predators. I will let some of the greens bolt and flower. I am planting seeds of small and mid-sized annuals for summer bloom.  I am going to grow tithonia for the north border,(just cause I love the butterflies it attracts). My list of plants to try include, marigolds, snapdragons, mint, thyme, dills, coneflowers, mexican heather, letting the wild broomsedge, chicweed, corydalis, geraniums, flowers.
This is all fluid and evolving.
   I am having trouble find info for doing this at latitude 30 degrees. Most of the books/ articles are from Virginia, Maine, Pennsylvania,Oregon, Washington.
So diversity and timing using local plants are my main goal now.  still learnin'
 
Bruce Fisher
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C. Letellier wrote:Almost all herbs, almost anything  that blooms.  Avoid the ones used as insect repellents and you are good mostly.  The next question is what else it does for you?  Does it fix nitrogen?  Does it have market value in your area?  Does it improve your diet?  Not saying the other things are required but if your space is small they should be.


 all good questions that I will have to keep in mind, thanks


 
Bruce Fisher
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Well, the winter, early spring season here is done. I tried to let as many different plants bloom. The winter "weeds" were carolina geraniums, chickweed, and henbit. They all bloomed well and presumably attracted their host of insects. These plants are being mulched now. The arugula bloomed for several weeks, I think it attracted more pollinators than predators, but it worked well to have the pollinators there when the blueberries and satsumas came to bloom. The arugula has a small tube flower and I am now collecting some seeds for next season. The collards also attracted and fed mainly pollinators again a plus. Kale started to get caterpillars before it bloomed, so it got cut down and mulched. The annuals I was trying to grow from seed were to small to be any use, they are growing now and blooming, so maybe they will be helpful in summer.
   The cilantro really did well, lots of small white flowers that bloomed over a long period and are still blooming.  Many small flies, bees, wasp, and unknowns were/are being found daily. I will have a bed of it every year. Plus, I could cut a stalk off, stick it in a water bottle and place in the kitchen window, the stalk would stay fresh for a week. I could pinch off some for cooking.
 First picture should be cilantro in bloom
 Second picture should be arugula in bloom. with elephant and turban garlics
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I grow radishes for pods not roots (Singara variety) and the blooms attract loads of pollinators - I've even seen hummingbirds visiting them. I've noticed the same thing with scarlet runner beans. Dill is always humming with tiny pollinators, as is comfrey when it's in bloom. For really early season stuff, bulbs like crocus are a good bet, and I notice that hyacinth flowers are really popular as well. Columbine, mahonia, heather and hellebore are also excellent early spring food for pollinators, with hellebore blooming in late winter for the earliest of the pollinators and those who are active on warm winter days.

Anything in the sunflower family is awesome to have around - the flower is actually hundreds or millions of small flowers compounded together, so it's like a drift of flowers all in one.

Things with bigger, open blooms are nice for providing shelter as well as nectar - I can usually snag potted azaleas for cheap on clearance at certain times of year, and bees seem to especially love them. If they do well in your area, flowering shrubs are great to have around. Kind of like the sunflowers, a shrub will have many blooms on it over a period of time and that seems to keep them coming back for more. Things like raspberries or blueberries can provide food for the pollinators and for you, too.

Any type of clover is great, you can usually find it in bulk mix at the feed store or wherever. I bought a 5lb bag a couple of years ago on clearance and have been using it and adding things to the mix - dandelion seeds, radish, kale, catnip, calendula, poppies, whatever I have on hand, and using that where I find bare ground.

I've noticed that a drift of flowers really attracts pollinators better than a plant here or there. I'm sure those are of benefit too, but a few of the same thing together, like Bruce's rows of cilantro and arugula, are infinitely more popular than a single plant off on the other side of the garden in my experience.

And lastly, you'll notice each year that the predators seem to return if you keep creating the conditions they like. Jumping spiders really like my mulched herb beds and wooden fence posts, for instance. Keep a key eye out and you'll notice all sorts of allies out there!
 
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I've been working on the subject of beneficial insects for some years now, and there are several things that stand out in my mind as important:

-A variety of flowers (Xerces Society says that in tests, the largest number and variety of beneficials was achieved with 20+ species of flowers in bloom.)

-Flowers all season, from very early spring (ie, still winter) to late fall.

-As many natives as possible. There are many native pollinators and predator insects that have co-evolved with specific plants, and can't do without them.

-Almost all herbs have good flowers for beneficials. Herbs are seldom bred for human-pleasing flowers and are thus still tailored to the needs of wild insects.

-Habitat should not be overlooked: piles of sticks to attract ground beetles, perennials for overwintering, etc.

-A variety of flower shapes, colors, sizes, being sure to emphasize singles over doubles, and to include lots of small and inconspicuous flowers like alyssum, orach, cilantro, amaranth, chervil, etc. as well as trumpet and foxglove shapes. Quail Seeds carries several seed collections specifically for attracting beneficials, tailored for the season and planting regime (annual, perennial, ground cover, decorative border, etc.)

-Some pests are always around, while some have a short--but potentially devastating--window. During those times, plants that are normally great for attracting beneficials may prove to be liabilities. For example, during late June/early July, brassicas host so many flea beetles and such destructive hordes of harlequin bugs in my area that I ban them from my garden until late July. That way, the coast is clear when I make large brassica plantings for fall. While arugula, kale, mustard, and even tiny weeds like shepherds' purse are normally wonderful attractors of beneficial tachnids, bees, syrphids, etc, they are not worth having around during the harlequin-bug window.

--It is obviously impossible to micromanage every interaction, and it's generally better to just have a bunch of stuff. HOWEVER, if you have one or two pests that have been a real problem, find out as much as you can about what attracts them, and what attracts their enemies. For example, if thrips are a big problem for you (and I have had them reduce tomatoes to a dry skeleton) you should know that the clover you planted for the bees attracts and shelters thrips, leading to worse damage than if it were bare ground. (There are a couple of research papers that studied this, available online.) On the other hand, alyssum as a flowering groundcover attracts the main predator on thrips, as well as bees and lots of other beneficials.

While it does sound strange, leaving aphids alone can in fact be a strong strategy for attracting and keeping beneficials. You won't have them on hand in large numbers if there are no prey for them, after all. Once I noticed that my poppies were getting a bad outbreak of those big fat black aphids that appear in early spring. Curious, I left them alone and checked them every day. Within a couple of days, wasps had found the poppies with aphids. Within another 3 days, the aphids were gone, completely vacuumed up by paper wasps. While the most numerous predatory wasps are small (down to gnat size) and stingless, it is also true that bigger more fear-inspiring wasps are formidable predators. (Generally speaking, the ground-nesting wasps are more aggressive than I can deal with in and around frequented areas, but tree-nesters are better, and solitary mud wasps downright tame.)

That said, aphids (whiteflies, thrips) are different from squash bugs. Large bugs that target and ruin the fruit are very different from small sucking insects that very gradually sap the plants strength. Diatom dust on the squash stems works well for me, combined with searching for and destroying eggs. I notice they generally crawl around the plant rather than flying, so the stems are their highway. I have also had success with an understory crop of radishes beneath and around the squash, to disguise the distinctive squash smell.

 
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Even though it’s one of the worst plants on the planet the bees go crazy for it. The one and only horse nettle.
066C9567-C441-4B36-A907-679C1EC16B84.jpeg
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Jamie Chevalier wrote:I've been working on the subject of beneficial insects for some years now, and there are several things that stand out in my mind as important:

-A variety of flowers (Xerces Society says that in tests, the largest number and variety of beneficials was achieved with 20+ species of flowers in bloom.)

-Flowers all season, from very early spring (ie, still winter) to late fall.

-As many natives as possible. There are many native pollinators and predator insects that have co-evolved with specific plants, and can't do without them.

-Almost all herbs have good flowers for beneficials. Herbs are seldom bred for human-pleasing flowers and are thus still tailored to the needs of wild insects.

-Habitat should not be overlooked: piles of sticks to attract ground beetles, perennials for overwintering, etc.

-A variety of flower shapes, colors, sizes, being sure to emphasize singles over doubles, and to include lots of small and inconspicuous flowers like alyssum, orach, cilantro, amaranth, chervil, etc. as well as trumpet and foxglove shapes. Quail Seeds carries several seed collections specifically for attracting beneficials, tailored for the season and planting regime (annual, perennial, ground cover, decorative border, etc.)

-Some pests are always around, while some have a short--but potentially devastating--window. During those times, plants that are normally great for attracting beneficials may prove to be liabilities. For example, during late June/early July, brassicas host so many flea beetles and such destructive hordes of harlequin bugs in my area that I ban them from my garden until late July. That way, the coast is clear when I make large brassica plantings for fall. While arugula, kale, mustard, and even tiny weeds like shepherds' purse are normally wonderful attractors of beneficial tachnids, bees, syrphids, etc, they are not worth having around during the harlequin-bug window.

--It is obviously impossible to micromanage every interaction, and it's generally better to just have a bunch of stuff. HOWEVER, if you have one or two pests that have been a real problem, find out as much as you can about what attracts them, and what attracts their enemies. For example, if thrips are a big problem for you (and I have had them reduce tomatoes to a dry skeleton) you should know that the clover you planted for the bees attracts and shelters thrips, leading to worse damage than if it were bare ground. (There are a couple of research papers that studied this, available online.) On the other hand, alyssum as a flowering groundcover attracts the main predator on thrips, as well as bees and lots of other beneficials.

While it does sound strange, leaving aphids alone can in fact be a strong strategy for attracting and keeping beneficials. You won't have them on hand in large numbers if there are no prey for them, after all. Once I noticed that my poppies were getting a bad outbreak of those big fat black aphids that appear in early spring. Curious, I left them alone and checked them every day. Within a couple of days, wasps had found the poppies with aphids. Within another 3 days, the aphids were gone, completely vacuumed up by paper wasps. While the most numerous predatory wasps are small (down to gnat size) and stingless, it is also true that bigger more fear-inspiring wasps are formidable predators. (Generally speaking, the ground-nesting wasps are more aggressive than I can deal with in and around frequented areas, but tree-nesters are better, and solitary mud wasps downright tame.)

That said, aphids (whiteflies, thrips) are different from squash bugs. Large bugs that target and ruin the fruit are very different from small sucking insects that very gradually sap the plants strength. Diatom dust on the squash stems works well for me, combined with searching for and destroying eggs. I notice they generally crawl around the plant rather than flying, so the stems are their highway. I have also had success with an understory crop of radishes beneath and around the squash, to disguise the distinctive squash smell.


Glad to see habitat mentioned. Having lots of nectar and pollen sources is great but habitat is also important and sorely lacking in many developed landscapes.  I like to have hedges and woodlots nearby to the garden. And lots of sunny edges.  As mentioned, brush piles, and compost piles. The ground dwelling insects are important also. Moist areas, sources of water, are good. Muddy banks or low areas for the butterflies.
 
Jeremy Baker
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Ive not seen a horse nettle before. Thanks for that!
I’ll encourage planting Umbels also, or letting them grow.
 
Scott Stiller
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Try to avoid it if you can Jeremy. It has tiny spines on the leaves and stalk. It’s great for chop and drop because it just keeps coming.
 
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I love this topic.

We had some bare spots in our small grassy area that we seeded with "Fleur de Lawn" (PT 755) this past spring, which contains a couple clovers, sweet alyssum, and yarrow among some other flowers/grasses. The strawberry clover and alyssum have come up in some areas, though no sign of yarrow as of yet.

We also planted a bunch of marigold in various places to help with aphids, though not sure if it has done anything.

The exciting thing for me was a volunteer/weed arrival of something in the carrot family (maybe queen anne's lace??) that has gotten pretty bushy in a couple spots. Today I counted six adult ladybugs on one of these plants, and later in the day I saw a juvenile. We love ladybugs.

We have also been seeing a lot of hoverflies, which I have heard are pollinators as adults. We have a lot of pollinators that visit our garden including european honey bees, an occasional bumble bee, hummingbirds, and lots of butterflies. I also recently read that hoverfly larvae eat aphids, so that's good.

I remember reading that we want to attract lacewings, though the only time I think I have seen a live adult green lacewing is at night when they almost fly right into me. I imagine the adult lacewings are the ones who like the umbrel flowers, and the juveniles predate on what we consider pests. I don't know a juvenile lacewing when/if I see one.

I have killed a few wasps trying to colonize on our house in the past, but Stefan Sobkowiak (and others) say we should gladly welcome wasps. Hopefully my two-year old son learned his lesson during the week in which he was stung five separate times by honeybees, most of which he had literally picked up in his hands from the flowers they were visiting. I think an angry mob of wasps could inflict more pain than a lone honeybee sting.

Lastly, I was at a friend's house recently who had a bunch of small preying mantids living in his backyard. He caught one and gave it to me to take home and release in our garden. Very unnatural, I know. What sort of plants might attract a friend for my new pet preying mantid??
 
Scott Stiller
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This was the early spring and it hadn’t reached it's full potential. Agastache is a perennial powerhouse for pollinators.
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My large yard areas & garden paths have lots of Queen Anne's lace, yarrow & newly planted Roman chamomle in the herb garden. There is an abundance of jewel weed , that honey bees & hummingbirds just love. I use many of the 'wild plants' for medicinal use & making fiber dyes for the alpaca fibers that were purchased locally.
 
Scott Stiller
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I can’t forget Rose of Sharon. It blooms all summer and attracts everything including Japanese Beetles. They swarm it and leave my other plants alone! It’s such a robust grower that they hardly damage it.
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pollinator
Posts: 138
Location: Idaho
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We're seeing Great Golden Digger Wasps on our thyme plant. The wasps are about an inch long with an abdomen that's half orange and half black. They are not aggressive and are insect predators. I make sure to never take all of the thyme for drying so that there is a constant supply of flowers for them and other pollinators. As we add to our garden with more plant variety, we're seeing a lot more insects, which I am very happy about, since there are few honeybees in the area. We depend on mason and bumble bees for our pollination right now.

Here is an earlier picture of the thyme plant with a Western Toad in attendance. And one taken today with a polyculture of herbs, peppers, medicinal plants, and some grain plants.

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Western Toad with thyme plant
Western Toad with thyme plant
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Hugel style polyculture kitchen garden
Hugel style polyculture kitchen garden
 
Scott Stiller
pollinator
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Location: North Carolina zone 7
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I agree Robin. The variety of insects is plentiful when you skip monoculture planting. I’ve got weeds that I am unsure about. The do know the bugs love them.
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