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Garden for insect predators and pollinators

Posts: 1158
Location: Nevada, Mo 64772
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I am making a garden on the north side of my house to attract predator insects like Trichogramma Wasps. It already attracts native pollinators. So far I have several kinds of mints, hostas, spice bush, lemon thyme, raspberries and other Rubus species, musk strawberries, white Dutch clover, persimmon, black pine, carpathian walnuts. On the others sides of the house, I have every common fruit and nut, Jerusalem artichokes, and my chemical free yard has black medic. My vegetable garden usually but not always has henbit or maybe it's purple dead nettle. It can bloom in late winter. Honey bees love it. I suppose the other beneficials do too?

Will these attract and keep some beneficials? I don't mind buying some wasps once , if I have too, but I'd like for them to naturalize.  For them to naturalize, I think I might need something that blooms earlier, late winter, maybe garlic mustard? Do they require nectar all summer and fall? What should I plant for late summer and fall? I think I have spring and early summer covered.

I think my main insect pests are codling moths, fall webworms,cucumber beetles, squash bugs, and tomato hornworms.

I wasn't sure if I should post this in the Bugs section or Organic.
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Posts: 3949
Location: USDA Zone 8a
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Ken, this is a great topic.

There are three kinds of beneficial insects: pollinators, predators and parasites. Pollinators, like bees and butterflies fertilize flowers which increases the production of your vegetable garden.  Predators, like lady beetles and soldier bugs consume pest insects as food. Parasites, like trichogramma wasps and braconid wasps use pests as nurseries for their young.  

From what I have researched  the beneficials liked plants with tiny flowers, which have easily accessible nectar chambers, like mint, carrot/aster families, sedums and sweet alyssums.

My question is:  If your purchase beneficial insects can they overwinter or will they need to be purchased again next year?

I hope someone will be able to answer your questions and mine.
Posts: 4122
Location: West Tennessee
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Hey Ken it sounds like you have a pretty diverse habitat and flower source in place already. All I have myself is an annual vegetable garden (with the exception of strawberry being the only perennial) and while I don't see trichogramma wasps or braconids, I see evidence of them, finding the occasional living caterpillar with eggs down its back or a dehydrated and mummified caterpillar corpse also with old eggs down its back. I've never purchased any, they just show up, and I see the evidence of them every year.

I like to think that purchasing them may not be necessary, but also wouldn't hurt (I don't think. Maybe someone will provide reason otherwise). If the habitat and environment is right, they should already be around and/or purchasing them should only have to be a one time event.

I'm a believer in the "build it and they will come" approach. No earthworms in your soil, build your soil and they will come. No bees or butterflies around? Build a garden and they will come.
Posts: 888
Location: 6a
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Hi Ken,

One of the things that really amped up my micro-wasps, praying mantis, pollinators and birds was letting some grassy areas go wild.    I also have a lot of diversity.  If I prune I will create a pile and just leave it, logs, branches and, habitat, in general, are all over the place.

I pruned 6 40" blue spruce and put all of those cuttings in a pile.  I couldn't believe how fast it decomposed.    

The flowering volunteer weeds that sprouted in the wild spots were preferred to the other flowering plants and attracted stuff I didn't have.  I read somewhere that it's important to have some of the local flora because that's what the local critters are accustomed to.  

The weeds that flowered were mostly tiny flowers.  Pokeweed was a favorite of the monarch.  Last year we didn't have any butterflies but this year the butterfly bushes and pokeweed were loaded.   I saw a lot of tiny wasps, and smaller bees of various types.   The bumblebees seem to like everything.  

I think where I'm at the bumblebees are doing more pollinating than the honey bees.  

You can attract some predator bugs with small rock piles (I got a bunch from the hugelkutur mounds I dug.  Water is also an attractant.   I haven't tried it but you can Spray your plants with an artificial insect attractant. Make your own attractant by mixing 10 parts water with one part sugar and one part brewer's yeast or whey yeast

Your bugs will stick around year after year as long as there is food and shelter....hopefully you don't have a 100-acre  permaculture farm next door  Another thing is not leaving things neat.  You need some mess as this is habitat. I haven't purchased any bugs and I wouldn't.  I agree with you that if you have the food and shelter you will get the critters.   You can go out an purchase a bunch of ladybugs but if you don't have the food and shelter they will just fly off.

I don't know if this video will interest but I like the way he thinks.  He starts talking about predator bugs at 3:25

Ken W Wilson
Posts: 1158
Location: Nevada, Mo 64772
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Thanks for the great video link! This is exactly what I had in mind. I live in town with code enforcement, so I'll have to keep it looking more organized, but the principles still apply. I really like his all natural look though. I have a few little corners that I think I can get away with not mowing.

I'm still looking to fill up this one garden with flowering plants. I have a very nice neighbor on that side, and he likes butterflies. The video mentions Rose Mallow. I have that at my farm. I'll bring some home.  I have asters and goldenrod there too.  The tops have died back. I'm not sure if I can still ID them. I will look into that.

Thanks, everybody!
Posts: 104
Location: Fairplay, Northern California
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Ken, some of the plants you mention in your original post are ones that I can grow in my area (western slope of the Sierra Nevada mtns. 45 miles east of Sacramento, 2300 ft. altitude)., so you should be able to grow salvias, of which there are hundreds of species and cultivars.  Some cultivars bloom very early in spring, some bloom all through the growing season, some put on a big show in fall and early winter.  A few even will put out flowers in late winter.  Natives plants, salvia or otherwise, are best for the very early and very late blooming.

I have often heard that a way to encourage native predator insects and pollinators is to provide winter shelter for them or their offspring.  Typically this consists of dead grass stalks, twiggy trash piles, and rock piles.  Inside my fence I have a rock pile and outside I have a couple acres of grassy, weedy meadow. If you need to keep your yard tidied up for the sake of good neighborly relations, perhaps you could have a small "rock garden" instead of a big, ol' pile like mine.  Some tall stems of annual plants could be left standing.  A tidy wood pile, whether or not it serves a fireplace, could be build in an inconspicuous spot.  This kind of information can be had from local organizations that foster native plants or from nurseries that specialize in the sale of native plants.
Posts: 47
Location: Piedmont, NC
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I've seen some rather sculptural insect habitats that might get past code and encourage neighbors to also create habitat. Here's an example: https://insteading.com/blog/insect-hotel/ . Searching on bug hotel and insect hotel turns up lots of ideas.
Posts: 49
Location: Sequim, WA USA - zone 8b
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I agree - nectar and pollen sources in early spring and fall, when food can be scarce, are the most critical for pollinators. I, too, find that native plants are often best for these time periods for honey bees, native bees, and other pollinators.

I recently wrote a blog post about this time of summer dearth, which can be a time of real hardship for bees. (We live in Zone 8b, located on the Olympic Peninsula of WA State.)
If you'd like to read the full blogpost, go to: "The Return of the Bees and the Dreaded Dearth".  But to cut to the chase, here is a list of what we have blooming right now that are favorite hangouts:

Anise Hyssop (Agastache spp.)
Asters (Symphyotrichum spp.)
Beebalm / Bergamot / Monarda
Black Cohosh
Broccoli & other Brassicas that have gone to seed
Butterfly Bush
Echinacea / Coneflower
Fennel (Invasive!)
Comfrey (2nd flowering)
Joe Pye Weed
Lemon Balm
Maximilian Sunflower
Pineapple sage
Poor Man’s Orchid (Impatiens glandulifera) (Invasive!)
Queen Anne’s Lace (Invasive!)
Red Runner Beans
Russian Sage
Salad Greens that have bolted
Sweet William

Hope this is helpful! Thanks!
Posts: 57
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You might like this video. I really love Living Web Farms and their youtube channel. They hold a lot of workshops and film them for youtube. LOADS of info on their channel!
Posts: 93
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Late winter and early spring are bloom times here for lots of native wildflowers and shrubs. Madrones and manzanitas bloom very early and attract whatever insects are out. Among shrubs, rosemary, ceonothus, coyote brush are the favorites, In the garden, the best early nectar sources I have found are overwintered brassicas.  If you grow kale, turnips, Asian greens, or arugula, these bolt at slightly different times and are outrageously full of bees and all manner of little fliers. You can see why--a bed full of them smells like honey even from a distance. For pest control in spring, I just throw around a bunch of old brassica and cilantro seed in fall.

High summer is more of an issue for insects in the west, because most of the landscape has dried up, except gardens.  It really pays to plant food for parasitic wasps and other beneficials then. That list above is all good, and I would pay particular attention to tiny white or yellow flowers in flat or round umbels--alyssum, dill, fennel, cilantro, and overwintered carrot, parsley, celery, etc. Ammi is a really good one because it blooms late. I always include alyssum, because it attracts predators that target thrips, which can devastate tomatoes in dry weather. Here is an easy approach: https://www.quailseeds.com/store/c38/Seed_Collections_and_Kits.html#/  

The Agroecology dept at UC Santa Cruz has done a lot of research on how to fight symphylans, which are tiny centipede-like critters in the soil that eat plant roots, sometimes with devastating results. They suggest that providing habitat for ground beetles--you know those lumbering black ones--makes the difference. They found that the beetles, which hunt at night, can go about 20 feet from their daytime hiding places. So they put little piles of old sunflower stalk, twigs, rock, etc, every 20 feet.

Straw mulch is also good. Grassy weedy areas can host ground beetles, but they are not pollinator hosts, since grasses are wind-pollinated (or self pollinating, like wheat) and provide no nectar for pest-eating wasps and beneficials.  I have found that grasses are host to both fungal diseases and thrips in my area and more of a problem than a help. Instead, I provide hedgerows of currants or other berries, perennial herbs, etc, as well as piles of branches for beetle and gopher snake habitat.
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