Are caterpillars chewing on your cabbage? Aphids browsing your Brussels sprouts? Cucumber beetles snacking on your squash? Keeping insect pests from attacking your garden veggies can be a problem, but help is on the way: Just invite your neighborhood beneficials to the banquet in your garden.
You don't need to order beneficials from a garden catalog; most are already present in your garden. Your job is to give them the food, water, and shelter they need to thrive, and they will reward you by patrolling your garden.
- Avoid the use of pesticides. Pesticides tend to be indiscriminate, killing beneficial insects as well as insect pests. If chemical control is necessary, use the least disruptive materials, such as soaps, oils, microbials, or botanicals.
- Create a garden that celebrates diversity. Include both annual and perennial ground covers, shrubs, trees, turfgrass, and some permanent arrangements, such as stone paths and decorative rock accents, which will provide shelter for insect predators. Clumps of native grasses make good overwintering sites for a variety of predatory insects.
- Plant lots of different kinds of flowers. Flowers provide pollen and nectar that beneficials need and that will sustain them when pest populations are low. Flat-topped flowers, such as dill, parsley, cilantro, and Queen Anne's lace, are especially attractive to tiny parasitic wasps – some of the most effective beneficial insects in the garden.
- Provide water. A shallow dish of water filled with pebbles or gravel and placed in a sheltered area will give small beneficials a safe place to slurp. Change the water regularly and avoid a puddle to prevent mosquitos which may harbor West Nile Virus from laying their eggs there and multiplying.
- Plan for a full season of bloom. Keep beneficials in your garden year-round by including varieties of flowering plants that bloom throughout the year.
- Go native. Allow some corners of your yard to grow naturally. Native beneficial insects love native vegetation.
- Tolerate a small number of pests. This will provide a continuous food supply for beneficials. Try “sacrificing” some plants in the garden, or if resorting to pesticides, make spot-treatment applications, leaving reservoirs of pests on which beneficials can survive.
- Eliminate ants. Ants interfere with the ability of predators to control aphids and scales. Applying a sticky material such as Tanglefoot to the base of affected plants will keep ants away.
UC Master Gardeners of Butte County are part of the University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) system. To learn more about us and our upcoming events, and for help with gardening in our area, visit our website. If you have a gardening question or problem, email the Hotline at firstname.lastname@example.org (preferred) or call (530) 538-7201.
By Michelle Ramsey, Butte County Master Gardener, August 23, 2013
Wolf spiders provide natural control of harmful insects. The Carolina Wolf Spider (Hogna carolinensis) is the largest of the wolf spiders. It is brown with black markings. Its body can measure more than one-inch long (and the whole spider can measure 4 inches across, from legs to legs). Female wolf spiders are larger than males; their undersides are solid black. Because some wolf spiders are large and hairy, they are sometimes mistaken for tarantulas.
Wolf spiders are not known to be aggressive but will bite if provoked or threatened. Their bite is not considered dangerous to people but it can be painful (like a bee sting). When disturbed, they will retreat very quickly.
Young wolf spiders hatch from eggs and look like tiny adults. They shed their skin as they grow. Males reach maturity from spring to summer. Mating occurs in autumn and the males die before the winter begins. Females lay eggs soon after mating. They carry their egg sacs in a silk cocoon attached to their abdomen by spinnerets. The spiderlings hatch in June and July and attain only half of their full size by the following winter. After hatching, the spiderlings cling to the mother’s body for about a week before detaching. They too will overwinter and complete their growth the following spring and summer. Female wolf spiders may live for several years. It is common to find females carrying their young spiderlings on their backs during the summer months. They can be a common pest in the fall when they begin to seek shelter from cooling temperatures.
The wolf spider is a solitary creature, preferring to live and hunt alone. Most are wanderers without a permanent home; however some Carolina wolf spiders create deep tubular burrows to live in. While wolf spiders prefer to live outdoors on the ground, they may occasionally wander indoors, where they might be found around doors and windows, and in garages. They may be seen running across the floor when disturbed. To keep spiders out of your home, seal cracks, gaps and other openings. For immediate and long-term control of wolf spiders, physical removal and/or destruction of the individual spider may be the best control.
For further information visit: http://www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/QT/commongardenspiderscard.html