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Want a Beautiful, Sustainable Garden? The one thing you should do now…

Theresa Badurek, UF/IFAS Extension, Pinellas County

Photo: UF/IFAS

Photo: UF/IFAS

There are a lot of resources out there to help you control, destroy, or otherwise eliminate bugs from your garden… but why? Did you know that less than 1% of all of the insects on the earth are pests? The other 99% are either beneficial or otherwise harmless. So why do bugs have so many haters? Maybe it’s because they look so different or maybe it’s because the bad bugs get all of the attention. Whatever the reasons, we need to change our perspective on insects. We need to let natural systems prevail in our own individual gardens and landscapes, instead of trying to control everything. When you embrace this philosophy, all of your garden endeavors will improve. Let’s start by turning our attention to all of the good work that insects do in the environment:

  • Pollination: If you enjoy eating, then you need pollinators. Many of the common pollinators of much of our food crops are insects. Why would we destroy such important players in our food production system? (And ones that work for free!)

Pollinators such as bees, birds and bats affect 35 percent of the world’s crop production, increasing the output of 87 of the leading food crops worldwide. (Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, Oct. 25, 2006.)

  • Protection: If you observed the insects in your garden long enough you would see a war being waged every day. There are bad bugs- and they are most certainly trying to eat some parts of your precious plants. But remember, there are far more good bugs… if you don’t kill them, that is. Many of the “good” bugs are voracious predators of the “bad” bugs. If you let them do their job you will not need to control the bad bugs. More free time for you + fewer pesticides in the environment= happy gardening. FYI: Even organic and natural pesticides kill bugs- good and bad. Pesticide use should always be your very last resort- even after considering removal and better plant selection in some cases. A few new plants better suited to your site cost far less than a constant regimen of chemicals.
  • Decomposition: Let’s break it down: growing trees and other plants produce a lot of biomass (leaves, wood, fruit, etc.)- and it’s all got to go somewhere eventually. Without the help of bugs in the decomposition process, the planet would have been smothered in plant debris long, long ago. All those creepy-crawlies you see under a rotting log are like millions of tiny sanitation workers keeping your garden clean. Thank them.
  • Wildlife Attraction: Aside from the fact that insects are wildlife too, if you love birds, then you need to learn to appreciate bugs. Most birds will eat some insects, and many rely on an insect-based diet. Bird populations are declining in many areas due to increased use of pesticides. We’re killing their food supply (bugs) – most of which would have helped us too, if we let them.
  • Beautification: It’s safe to assume that everyone will agree that butterflies are beautiful. But there are so many insects with attractive, often stunning, features. Consider these beauties:
Convergent Lady Beetles, Photo: UF/IFAS

Convergent Lady Beetles, Photo: UF/IFAS

Fiddlewood Leafroller, Photo: UF/IFAS

Fiddlewood Leafroller, Photo: UF/IFAS

Iridescent Green Sweat Bee, Photo: Wiki Commons

Iridescent Green Sweat Bee, Photo: Wiki Commons

red-banded leafhopper wiki commons_Kaldari_02

Red-Banded Leafhopper, Photo: Wiki Commons

 

 

 

 

 

 

The one thing you should do right away to have a beautiful and sustainable garden is learn to observe your landscape. Know which bugs are good and which are bad- and watch how they interact. Now is the perfect time to learn more- it’s Bug Week at the University of Florida. You can follow on social media like Facebook or Twitter by entering #ufbugs or just check in on their website at: http://bugs.ufl.edu/. For insect ID any time of the year visit “Featured Creatures” at http://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/.