Take the idea that we can ever dominate nature and toss it in the wood chipper.
“You can never eradicate pests completely,” horticulturist Mike Caron explains, but ‘beneficial insects’ can be used “as antagonists to help suppress a pest population.” Mike is the USU Extension Horticulture Specialist at Thanksgiving Point.
There are no quick fixes when it comes to managing an ecosystem. Buying and releasing beneficial insects may have a short-term effect on a pest population, but, Mike notes “the outside world is so vast it is unrealistic to expect that introduced insects will stay there. It’s a better strategy to make your landscape more conducive to attracting beneficial insects.” Shasta daisies, yarrow, chamomile, mint, and sunflowers are common Utah garden plants that attract beneficial insects.
In general, insects have not only a species life cycle, but also cycles in relation to each other.
For example, there are hundreds of different aphid species in Utah. Left unchecked, aphid populations can damage plants. But aphids have natural enemies. They are a food source for other insects and their larva. Unfortunately, Mike explains, if pesticides are used to exterminate aphids, pests and beneficials are eradicated. Further, he says, pest populations rebound faster than the beneficial population, so the outcome is a greater pest-to-beneficial imbalance.
“Pesticides are a tool in the shed, but they’re a last resort. Some insects are working for us, and some seem to undo what we do, so it’s important to know what beneficials look like.” To the uneducated eye, ladybug larvae look potentially harmful, but, Mike asserts, “They’re not the problem; they’re the solution.” Ladybug and lacewing larvae consume aphids, and the voracious hoverfly larvae can eat up to 60 aphids per day in addition to feeding on small caterpillars and thrips, a common agricultural pest.
In the valleys along the Wasatch Front, typical and advantageous beneficial insects are ladybugs, lacewings, soldier, ground, and rove beetles, parasitic wasps and hoverflies.
“We can do a lot in our yards to enhance the environment,” he continues. Ecologically balanced gardens and yards–just 5 percent in a given neighborhood–Mike says, can serve as “springboard sites” for the greater area. “People managing more responsibly,” he concludes, “seems like more security for our future.”
To learn more about Integrated Pest Management (IPM), visit http://utahpests.usu.edu/ipm/