Beneficial Insects for Tomato Plants

beneficial insects

Before you reach for the broad spectrum insecticides remember that not all insects are bad. In fact only 2% of the insect population is destructive and some insects are really good because they feast on the “bad insects.” Many insecticides will kill those good bugs and leave your garden vulnerable to a re-infestation of crop destroying critters.

Here are some of the most common beneficial insects and what you can grow to attract them to your garden:

Lady Beetles

You probably know these as lady bugs when in fact they are a beetle not a bug. Lady beetles feast on soft insects that wreak havoc on your plants including aphids, thrips, mealy bugs, mites and scale insects. Both adults and larvae feed on these destructive pests so welcome them into your garden. Online and at some garden centers you can purchase bags of live lady beetles to release in your garden, Of course there is no guarantee that they won’t like your neighbor’s yard more than yours but it could be worth a try!

Assassin Bugs

There are many different kinds of assassin bugs and some specialize in a particular kind of prey. They use all the tricks a bug can have to hunt and kill for food. You may confuse these bugs with the leaf footed bug (a very destructive pest) because they look similar with the exception of the obvious leaf shaped feet.

Praying Mantids

Although these critters are large, they are hard to spot because their stick-like shape and foliage color provides a great disguise. They can handle even the largest pests in the garden although their indiscriminate eating patterns mean they could just as easily be eating another beneficial.

Minute Pirate Bugs

Tiny, tiny tiny! You probably won’t ever know you have them unless you take a hand lens and a piece of white paper out to the garden for some good pest sleuthing. Only 1/16th of an inch long, they consume mites, aphids and thrips. With your hand lens you will see a white chevron pattern on a tiny black body.

Predatory Stick Bugs

Most gardeners are all too familiar with stink bugs devouring their plants however there are stink bugs that devour pests. Of course they will eat most any critter, insects, bugs even catapillars.so they may also be eating beneficial. The spined soldier bug is an example of a good stink bug. He has a shield shaped body and will “stink” if disturbed. There are many other good stink bugs. As a general rule, the beneficial have spines and the plant feeders have round shoulders.

Lacewings

Lacewings are green with copper eyes and are about ¾ inch long. Nicknamed aphid lion, they consume great quantities of aphids. They can be found anywhere in your yard or garden.

Big Eyed Bug

They have large bulging eyes on their tiny bodies. Have your hand lens handy and look for oval, flat body about 1/8th inch. Adults and babies feast on aphids, mites and other insect eggs.

How do you attract and keep the beneficial insects working in your yard?

  1. Incorporate plants in your yard that will attract beneficial insects. This list of common herbs and flowers will not only attract beneficial insects but will provide culinary herbs for you dining pleasure and flowers to attract pollinators.

    • Yarrow
    • Dill
    • Cilantro
    • Cosmos
    • Queen Ann’s lace
    • Fennel
    • Sunflowers
    • Marigolds
    • Parsley
    • Tansy
    • Zinnias
    • Spearmint

  2. If you choose to use a pesticide, make sure you know what it is you are trying to kill. Safer than broad spectrum insecticides are horticultural oils and insecticidal soap.

  3. Tolerate mild infestations. Let the beneficials have time to do their job.

  4. Put a water feature or birdbath in your garden. You will attract beneficial insects and birds (another predator of insects.)

By putting out the welcome mat for beneficial insects, you will have healthier plants with better resistance to disease. The best tomatoes you will ever eat are the ones you grow.

Comments from Other Gardeners
  • Nick says:

    I garden in raised beds using organic controls when necessary although it is not often necessary. Many of the plants that you say attract the beneficial insects are growing in my garden and my 5 chickens are in the adjoining fenced area. I know they eat many of the bad insects and love the little worms and grubs that can cause problems. It is definitely worth it to see the beautiful crop of tomatoes that grow every year in my garden. Sure once and a while I have some damage from insects of disease. I simply pluck the offending leaves and move on. It works!

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