In our first inaugural column, we start off with a general discussion of beneficial insects and how to attract them.
There is a wide variety of naturally occurring beneficial insects that can help keep pest insects under control if they are given a chance. Sadly, however, these insects are often misidentified and in some cases are mistaken for pests, leading to unnecessary and counter-productive insecticide applications.
Attracting and retaining beneficial insects
Like all insects, beneficial species have three basic needs – food, water, and shelter. As far as food is concerned, although these species are predatory or parasitic for at least part of their life cycle, many of them need floral resources (nectar and/or pollen) at various times. Such resources can sustain these insects when prey is scarce, help them live longer, or lay more eggs. One way of attracting these insects to your garden or farm is therefore to plant a mixture of so-called ‘insectary plants,’ which can provide nectar and pollen all season long if properly cared for. Since beneficial insects differ in the size and structure of their mouthparts, not all flowers are equally accessible to all insects. Hence, to benefit the maximum number of beneficial insects, the flower mixture should contain a diversity of species with different bloom periods, flower sizes, structures, and colors. A basic core mixture of insectary plants for New Mexico has been developed at New Mexico State University’s Los Lunas Agricultural Science Center and the suggested species are illustrated below.
Suggested insectary plants for New Mexico
The species below form a suggested ‘core mix’ of quick-maturing annual plants that are readily available and easy to grow from seed. With the exception of the early-flowering California bluebell, they should bloom for the entire summer—particularly if dead flowers are removed from time to time before they set seed. Additional species can be added. Avoid double-flowered varieties, which can be hard for insects to access.
Beneficial of the Month material courtesy of NMSU ACES
Pocket Guide to the Beneficial Insects of New Mexico