Why Use Beneficial Insects?

Everyone is familiar with the term “survival of the fittest”. The history of pest control illustrates this concept. As chemical usage grew among commercial farmers and home gardeners, pests kept pace and did their best to resist harsh pesticides. While we may have succeeded in killing most of the bad bugs, the small percent that did survive passed their resilience on to the next generation. By increasing the amounts and types of poisons needed to do the same job, we inadvertently bred stronger, more resistant pests, while pouring more and more chemicals into our soils, water, and of course, ourselves. CBS News reported that “97% of Americans have some level of ‘forever chemicals’ in their blood” (June 6, 2022).

Maintaining Mother Nature’s “Balance”

Today we have learned to work with Mother Nature rather than against Her. We know that nearly all pests have natural enemies – we refer to these as beneficial insects, they are the “good bugs” that consume the bad bugs. And fortunately, no harmful insect has developed immunity from being eaten by a natural predator!

For the most beautiful and bountiful results in your garden, it is important that the beneficial bugs are in the right place at the right time!

How Gardening Zones Affect Beneficial Insects

You may have heard of the USDA Gardening Zones, sometimes called “Hardiness Zones” or Planting Zones. In 1960, the USDA summarized the data they had collected on temperatures and growing conditions; they identified Zones 1 through 10 to help farmers and gardeners know what would be best to grow.

New Gardening Zones Reflect Climate Change Realities

Recently, these zones have been reconfigured to account for changes in climate. These shifts in climate have also caused insects to adjust their patterns.

For example, ladybug swarms may be directly correlated to these changes in hardiness zones. In 2019, an enormous ladybug cloud (known as a “bloom”) over 80 miles square and 4,000 feet thick tripped satellites and made national news. They were tracked flying over southwestern San Bernardino County, on their journey toward the Sierras from San Diego. The weather service calls these swarms “angels”, a radar term used for flocks of birds or other large anomalies.

According to the USDA at https://planthardiness.ars.usda.gov/:

USDA’s Plant Hardiness Zone Map is the standard by which gardeners and growers can determine which plants are most likely to thrive at a location. The new map—jointly developed by USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and Oregon State University’s (OSU) PRISM Climate Group—is more accurate, contains greater detail,… [and] was expanded… to include “Tips for Growers”.

The 2023 map, based on 30-year averages of the lowest annual winter temperatures at specific locations, is divided into 10-degree Fahrenheit zones and… 5-degree half-zones. The 2023 web version… is specifically designed to be user-friendly. Notably, the 2023 map delivers to users several new, significant features and advances… with data from 13,412 weather stations compared to the 7,983 that were used for the 2012 map.

Beneficial Insect Release Guidelines

The Plant Hardiness Zones can also provide guidance about choosing and releasing the ideal beneficial insects to protect your garden.

Some common beneficial insects that you can buy to release in your garden include lady beetles, lacewings and praying mantises. Earthworms are also vital to soil health.

Depending on which beneficial insect you use, you will need to consider the temperatures of the soil or the air, and sometimes both. Use the chart below to determine the ideal conditions for releasing your beneficial bugs.

Under no circumstances should a beneficial insect be released in extreme heat or cold temperatures.

Planning is the Key to a Healthy and Beautiful Garden

Remember that when the weather starts to awaken your garden, your pests will begin waking up as well. The tender roots and tender chutes will be vulnerable. Plan ahead to have your nematodes, lady bugs and lacewings at the ready in your refrigerator.

Catching an infestation early by unleashing beneficial insects will always benefit your beautiful garden.