Some time ago an aspiring gardener at a Foodscaping Utah volunteer event asked what we do about insect pests. The timing of the question was a little unexpected because we had been talking about other things. Without really thinking about it I said, “we plant flowers”.
Of course we do manage pests in other ways as well. And I’d known about benefits of polycultures, but it wasn’t really until that moment that I realized the benefits of incorporating in a healthy number of flowers with a wide variety of food producing plants extend far beyond creating a beautiful, esthetically-pleasing foodscape. Establishing a biodiverse polyculture creates an environment in which beneficial predatory insects can thrive and do a lot of the pest management work for you.
In our case, we still do have the occasional aphid buildup and always have to diligently monitor for squash bugs, but we have been fortunate enough to be able to manage pests with minimal intervention. For example, we control aphid buildups with a stiff spray of water a few times a year and prevent squash bugs early in the season by scouting and removing their eggs before they hatch. We also prevent worms (codling moth larvae) in apples and pears with organza bags. It’s incredibly helpful to know your pests and know about their life cycles. As for aphids in our foodscape, predatory insects such as ladybugs, lacewings, and parasitic wasps do the lion’s share of the work.
When attracting beneficial predators and pollinators, we focus on planting perennial and annual flowers that provide pollen and nectar throughout the season. Having pollen and nectar around brings in pollinators (native bees, honey bees, bumble, etc) to pollinate your food crops and provides a secondary food source for the predators to make sure they stick around. In addition to planting a variety of perennial and annual flowers, we also focus on growing healthy plants with healthy soil (for pest resilience), establishing a biodiverse polyculture, and rotate our vegetable crops when we can.
Our video below highlights a wide variety of beneficial insects including ladybugs, lacewings, predatory wasps, hoverfly, and praying mantis. We also talk about providing flowers for native bees, honey bees, and bumble bees. The second half of the video features lists of our top 5 favorite perennial flowers and top 5 annual flowers with footage of beneficial insects on them.
For more recommendations on Gardening for Native Bees in Utah and Beyond (pdf USU Extension Fact Sheet): https://digitalcommons.usu.edu/cgi/vi…
Combinations for Conservation (USU book): https://cwel.usu.edu/combinationsforc…