Insects in the Garden

This will be one of the hardest concepts for a person new to "wildscaping" to get used to: insects are not your enemies; they are your friends. For starters, butterflies are insects; who wouldn't want more of those in their garden? Also, roughly half of the birds (including warblers and even hummingbirds) eat insects, not seeds; if you want to attract them, you'll need to have something for them to eat.

Does this mean you have to sacrifice your plants? No. Well over 90% of all insects do no harm whatsoever to your plants. Indeed, many of these insects turn around and eat the other insects that are truly harmful!

So, stop poisoning - now. It may take a couple of years to re-establish the ecological balance, but after you do, you'll probably have fewer insect problems than before, as ladybugs, lacewings, and other allies wipe out bothersome aphids and the such that attack your prize plants. You can jumpstart the process by adding these beneficial insects to your garden.

Once you do this, you may be amazed to find you start studying and enjoying the insects in your garden along with the flowers and wildlife. Not all spiders are those ugly black things that surprise you in your bathroom; many are quite colorful and interesting - such as the crab spider, which adapts to the color of the plant it is on.

Fuzzy, buzzy bees

We've even come to terms with bees: Don't get between them and the pollen, and everything will be alright! Not to mention there's a wide variety of bees beyond the normal honeybee; the big furry yellow and black bumblebees are perhaps our favorite. Over the past year we’ve read an alarming number of news reports about the decline of the bee population (especially honey bees), and so now we are even more pleased to see them buzzing around.

Excerpt below is from the article “A bee-friendly garden” by Holly Hayes, San Jose Mercury News, 04/07/2007:

“A lovely palette of native flowering plants does more than beautify your garden. It also provides a satisfying buffet for a group of industrious pollinators you may know nothing about: native bees. These little guys are just the sort of low-maintenance freeloaders you want to welcome and encourage to stay. They’re shy and solitary – and they don't want to sting you, either.

“Plant the right plants in your garden and they will come,” says Gordon Frankie, a University of California-Berkeley entomologist who has focused his attention on native bees since the late 1960s. “In fact, the more diverse the plantings in your garden are, the more bees you will attract. And it will be a more diverse bee population.” The list includes California natives such as ceanothus, clarkia, sunflowers, poppies and several varieties of buckwheat, sage and penstemon. For the full list, visit

There are 1,600 species of native bees in California, Frankie says, and between 3,400 and 5,000 in the United States. Unlike the familiar European honeybee – which has a complicated, hierarchical pecking order and lives collectively in a hive - these native dwellers are independent and build their nests in the ground or in wood. They can be bright green, flinty blue, black, striped, fuzzy.

The group includes native bumblebees, mason bees and leaf-cutter bees. Encouraging them to take up residence in your garden is a good thing, Frankie says. Natural nesting sites are increasingly being lost in our urban sprawl, and the sensitive bees to overuse of pesticides. Native bees do not produce honey, wax or any other products of interest to humans. But the pollination service they provide is quite valuable.” <end excerpt>

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