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LifestyleColumnistsJessica Damiano

These 'pests' are beneficial for your garden, plus identifying bees

Hoverfly on a white flower macro in bright

Hoverfly on a white flower macro in bright light on a green & beige background in summertime. Credit: Getty Images/iStock

Why is it that when we see a ground beetle, many of us get the creepy-crawlies and try to avoid — or even kill it — but we teach our children to pursue ladybugs and fireflies, and even (gasp!) handle them?

The answer is likely rooted in appearances: The adorably dotted, tiny red ladybug, which also is called the ladybird beetle, can eat as many as 50 harmful aphids per day in the garden, and its larvae will consume its body weight in the pests daily. But appearances can be deceiving: The seemingly menacing, long, dark and antennaed ground beetle is also beneficial in the garden, where it preys upon slugs, cutworms and Colorado potato beetles that would otherwise ravage plants.

The important take-away is that we shouldn’t judge a pest by its covering: Those harmful, striped potato beetles are cuter than their harmless ground beetle predators, and recognizing the difference — a skill all gardeners should possess — allows for a nontoxic approach to pest control.

Here are some of the most common beneficial insects you’re likely to encounter in your garden, the pests they control, and what you can plant to attract them.

INSECT: Ladybug

BENEFIT: Preys upon aphids, Colorado potato beetles, scales, thrips, mealybugs, European red mites, whiteflies

PLANT: Butterfly weed, coriander, dill, marigold, fennel, yarrow

INSECT: Ground beetle

BENEFIT: Preys upon caterpillars, Colorado potato beetles, cutworms, slugs

PLANT: Amaranthus, clover, evening primrose

INSECT: Syrphid flies

BENEFIT: Preys upon aphids, mites, scales, thrips

PLANT: Catmint, cilantro, yarrow and especially sweet alyssum

INSECT: Bumblebees

BENEFIT: Pollinates plants by shaking flowers as they feed on nectar; especially beneficial for tomato plants

PLANT: Aster, butterfly bush, clover, coneflower, dahlia, hellebore, mint, sunflower, tomato and many others

INSECT: Lacewings

BENEFIT: Larvae consume aphids, immature whiteflies, insect eggs, mealybugs, mites, small caterpillars, thrips and other soft-bodies insects

PLANT: Aster, carrot, cilantro, dill, goldenrod, parsley, sunflower

INSECT: Parasitic wasps

BENEFIT: Preys upon hornworms, aphids, cabbage loopers, whiteflies

PLANT: Aster, carrot, cilantro, daisy, dill, goldenrod, parsley, sunflower

INSECT: Tachinid flies

BENEFIT: Preys upon armyworm, corn earworm, cabbage looper, imported cabbage worm, Japanese beetle, stink bug, squash bug nymphs

PLANT: Aster, carrot, cilantro, daisy, dill, goldenrod, parsley, sunflower


One of the biggest travesties in the garden is a case of mistaken identity. To the untrained eye, yellow jackets and hornets appear strikingly similar to bees, important pollinators that are often destroyed out of misplaced fear.

Bees, yellow jackets and hornets all are striped yellow and brown or black, a similarity that accounts for much of the confusion among them. But most bees you’re likely to encounter appear fuzzy, and their yellow stripes are muted compared to the brightly colored, shiny hornets and yellow jackets, both of which also have telltale narrow waists.

Yellow jackets and hornets seemingly sting humans for no apparent reason and may do so repeatedly. Removing their nests from your property is considered an important safety measure (call an exterminator to perform the job safely).

Allergies aside, however, most actual bees do not typically pose a threat unless they feel threatened — or are lured by your exhaled carbon dioxide. Should you encounter one in the garden, simply avoid swatting motions, keep your mouth shut, and if you feel you need, calmly walk away; unlike yellow jackets and hornets, the bee usually will ignore you, go about its business of pollinating, and fly away.

Bees typically construct hives in hollow trees, dark crevices, between rocks and underground. If there is a hive near your entryway, children’s play area or in another high-traffic area around the home, shed or garage, removal will be necessary. But do not apply a pesticide or attempt to remove it yourself. Instead, call a beekeeper (, many of whom will confirm the species by emailed photo before heading over.

Bees act defensively and will not attack unless they are disturbed or perceive danger. It’s uncommon to be swarmed Winnie the Pooh-like in your backyard, but should that occur — or should you inadvertently disturb a hive while hiking — move calmly, pull your shirt over your face for protection and seek shelter indoors. If you are stung on exposed skin, cover it (or if on your hand, place it in your pocket) to filter the pheromones — or chemical signals — released from the sting that may attract other bees.

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