A healthy garden begins with a diversity of native plants, good soil full of organic matter, and not using pesticides or synthetic fertilizers. If you have a vegetable garden, you probably have experienced some type of pest eating your food. Planting native plants and annuals near your vegetable garden can attract many beneficial insects that will help with pest problems. These beneficial insects are helpful in the landscaped garden as well.
In my garden I have two native ninebark shrubs. In spring, one of the shrubs seems to attract lots of teeny tiny black aphids. Along with this, comes a lot of ladybugs! Lady bugs are carnivorous and take care of many pests in the garden, especially aphids. Since the aphids don’t seem to bother the ninebark, I don’t apply any pesticide and allow the ladybugs to take care of them. This nine bark was covered in dozens of ladybugs.
Last year I found a tobacco hornworm on a tomato plant. These hornworms are attracted to plants in the solanacea family (tobacco, tomatoes, eggplant, potatoes). They are especially attracted to tobacco and tomatoes, and can level a plant. I still hated to kill the hornworm since he would turn into a pretty sphinx moth, and left him be since he was the only one.
A few days later I found him not looking too good. The next day I came out to the garden and found him like this. These white rice looking bits are eggs of a parasitic wasp that were laid inside the hornworm by the mama wasp. These parasitic wasps are very tiny and not ones that sting you. The hornworm is a great host for them, meaning they are a natural pesticide for this garden pest.
Many plants attract certain types of pests, so you can pinpoint which plants in your landscape are likely to attract a specific pest. Less than 1% of insects are considered pests! Just because there’s an insect eating your plant, does not mean it’s a pest. If you see a caterpillar on a plant (especially if it’s a native plant), chances are it is supposed to be there and will turn into a beautiful butterfly or moth. Sometimes, nature will take care of the real pests, just like the examples above.
If your unsure about the insect you see on your plant, do a google search, get a good insect or pests guide, call your local extension office, or contact a professional gardener.