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Attracting Beneficial Insects
by Jack Shoultz

Originally published in California Coastal Rose Society Newsletter
February, 2008

by Jack Shoultz

Although it is still "winter", if we can call what we encounter here in Southern California as winter, it is not too early to think about how we can entice "good bugs" to our gardens. For organic gardens, one of the best ways to control "pests" is to invite their natural enemies over for lunch. To do this plant host plants for one of the insect's life cycles. Many of the pests that invade our rose gardens as well as other parts of our gardens have one or more insects that will help control their population. It could be a fly, caterpillar, worm, bee or other. What brings all these to your garden is what you should focus on, companion planting.

Ladybug: Coccinella septempunctata, beneficial insect for roses
Ladybugs (Coccinella septempunctata) eat aphids and scale insects.

Depending on how you want your rose garden to look depends on how you draw in these insects. If you like to plant in and around your roses, then it is easy to pick several annual or perennial plants that will work. The characteristics that help grow good roses should be the same you use to pick the plants for your rose garden. Roses like to be kept moist--not soggy and not dry. Choose plants that like to grow in these same conditions. Also it is best to choose plants that do not have an extensive or deep root system that would take an excessive amount of moisture away from the roses. You will need to adjust the watering to allow for the needs of the companion plants that will also work for the roses.

If your idea of a rose garden is clean with no companion planting then there are other ways to attract these by planting either in adjacent spots or planting in pots and placing them around your yard and garden. In the best of circumstances, the beneficial insects will follow the pest insects to your garden, but this does not usually happen until the pest population is larger then we would like, so having host plants may give you an advantage on hosting the party before it gets out of hand.

There are lists in organic websites that tell you what plants are host plants for the insects you are looking for. You can also look up what are the enemies of the pest you have in your garden and pick host appropriate plants. As an added bonus, many of these plants have lovely flowers and/or foliage. The can be used in arrangements or just enjoyed as an addition to your garden. One thing to be aware of would be the ability of the plant to spread by seeds or other means. You would not want to pick a plant that would become invasive or create more work for you. Now would be the time to start doing the homework on what you could do to get a start on creating a host garden.

Photo by Jon Sullivan courtesy of pdphoto.org

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