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Some insects beneficial to the landscape

Decades ago, I killed insects the way television and magazine ads recommended: spraying toxic chemicals about every two weeks. Why so often? Because that is what the label said to do. Insect problems were abundant, and the landscape always ready for another application. When I decided to get pregnant, it was an easy decision to stop using toxic insect sprays. Amazingly, after a couple of months, my landscape became almost free of insect problems. Why?

There are more good insects than bad insects. Some of the good insects, honeybees and butterflies, are pollinators, while others prey on destructive insects. More than 20 years later, my landscape remains balanced in favor of good insects. Butterflies and honeybees are active year round. Ladybugs and praying mantis eat aphids and other harmful insects during the growing seasons. During summer when the wild jasmine is wafting its scent, herds of lightning bugs delight the eyes.

A few bad bugs continue to think my landscape is their paradise. I know who they are and what they like. Slugs like dark, moist areas, especially the undersides of bark nuggets used as mulch. I stopped using bark nugget mulch in favor of pine straw. Nineteen years ago, one month of using beer poured into shallow bowls and left near the slug problem mostly eradicated them. Now when I see a slug, it is quickly dispatched by hand and its dead body is left where it was found to repel future slugs. Dead insect bodies repel their live counterparts.

Aphids are small chewing and sucking insects. They arrive in shades of black or green and can be different sizes. Tender new growth is their buffet. When you see aphids attacking new plant growth, knock them off with a jet of water. Once knocked off, they cannot chew and suck on mature foliage; it's too strong. Usually, getting a hose is inconvenient when I see an infestation of aphids, so I squish them with my fingers. Problem solved.

Most years, I never have to kill aphids. Praying mantis eat them. Their egg sacs look like a dried puff of light chocolate mousse. If I prune cleyera or abelia in winter and see a praying mantis egg sac, I place it near where it was pruned. Several times, I've had the good fortune to watch them hatch in late spring.

Beware electronic insect killers. They indiscriminately kill good and bad insects. One study indicated they kill more good bugs than bad. I won't use the organic insect sprays - pyrethrum or rotenone - to kill insects, because they kill beneficial insects, too. For mosquitoes, I have outdoor ceiling fans over a patio bench and dinner table. The breeze is enough to keep mosquitoes away. No, I never did get pregnant, but I created a fertile environment for multitudes of beneficial insects. They are the best organic pest control.

Stone Mountain resident Tara Dillard designs, installs and writes about gardens.