Insects are a normal part of landscapes around the world, with an estimated 164,000 insect species, including the approximate number of species not yet name by scientists, found in the United States alone. Insects often get a bad rap and it is not uncommon for individuals to automatically consider any insects found within their landscapes to be an undesirable annoyance, or pest. However, the truth of the matter is not all insects found within our landscapes are pests. Insect pests are classified as insects, or bugs that are a nuisance, spreading diseases and causing the destruction of plant life and property. Whereas, insects that are not deemed pests, are considered to be beneficial insects. According to the University of Florida IFAS Extension, of the millions of estimated insect species around the globe, “less than 1% of these actually feed on plants in a harmful way”. Meaning there are more good bugs, or beneficial insects, than there are insect pests.
How Insects Benefit Our Landscapes
Beneficial insects create a balance within our landscapes by preying on the pests, they help to control insect pest populations and prevent infestations that, if left to run ramped, could result in the total loss of a landscape, garden, plant, or tree. Insect pests feed on the vegetation within our landscapes; therefore, once their desired food source has dried up the infestation will often spread to neighboring landscapes in search of food. This is why preventing infestations and maintaining the balance of beneficial versus bad insects within our landscapes is so important.
By preying on pests, beneficial insects serve as an arborists’ and organic gardeners’ secret weapon, as they do the work of pesticides without all the harmful side effects. However, beneficial insects serve as more than natural enemies. They also play an essential role in agricultural production systems, as specific insect species serve as pollinators helping gardeners and farmers by pollinating crops, other species play the role of decomposers, by assisting in the breakdown of organic matter. Additionally, certain insect species produce wax and the honey bee provides a desirable food source, honey.
Pesticides and Beneficial Insects
Over the years the use of pesticides to control insect pests, has been a common practice and often a homeowners’ go-to for ridding their landscape of unwanted pests. Unfortunately, pesticides come with damaging side effects. Pesticides are not designed to target only specific insects; therefore, the use of pesticides in ones’ landscape often results in the loss of beneficial insects as well. This loss of beneficial insects disrupts the natural balance and leaves the landscape undefended against future infestations and insect pest attacks. Over spray from pesticides can also disrupt healthy parts of the landscape, seep into ground water, and be tracked into the home, exposing one’s pets and family members to dangerous chemicals with potential health risks.
Here is a quick example:
Joe has noticed a decline in the tree in his backyard, upon closer observation he can see that he has an
insect pest problem. Joe goes to his local hardware store and purchases a generic over the counter
pesticide, that he is sure will rid his tree of these bugs. Once home, he carefully follows the
instructions and sprays his tree with the pesticide.
Some of the pesticide lands on the ground surrounding the tree. A small breeze blows a little pesticide
onto the healthy bushes by the house and into his wife’s small garden. Later that day, the kids are playing
in the yard, tracking pesticide from the ground, around the tree, into the house on the bottom of their
The example above demonstrates how easily pesticides can be spread throughout an entire landscape and transferred into one’s home. This may not seem like a huge ordeal; however, this spread of chemicals throughout the landscape could potentially kill off the beneficial insects causing the entire landscape to become susceptible to the invasion of insect pests.
Although there are instances where the use of chemical pesticides is unavoidable, Integrated Pest Management (IPM) provides a more efficient method for controlling, treating, and preventing insect pest infestations within landscapes. IPM is a holistic approach to insect pest management that focuses on the use of beneficial insects. One of the primary methods used in IPM is the use of biological controls. IPM specialists utilize their knowledge of ecology, to create an environment within the landscape that is inviting to beneficial insects.
Creating an Inviting Environment for Beneficial Insects
The best way to attract beneficial insects into a landscape is by creating a sort of sanctuary for them. Each insect species has its own vegetative preference. By integrating the specific types of plants that these insects are attracted to, into the landscape, one creates an environment that is inviting. Having a good variety of plants of varying heights and sizes will also provide the different species of insects with needed protection. As an added bonus, having a variety of plant sizes will also add an aesthetically pleasing quality to the landscape.
In addition, it is good practice to use plants throughout one’s landscape that offer a food source such as fruit, flowers, and seeds. These plants not only help to attract beneficial insects but, also other wildlife such as birds, that will also prey on insect pests. Landscapes that provide a water source for wildlife are also optimal.
For many years, pesticides were the go-to option for ridding landscapes of annoying insect pests. However, today we know the best way to combat pests is with a natural approach that maintains the balance of beneficial insects versus insect pests. Integrated Pest Management offers holistic methods that are safe and provide long-term results, by creating an overall healthier landscape that does not require constant intervention.