Insects are a part of gardening. Most insects are beneficial or at least not detrimental to our vegetable and landscape plants. Some common insects that you might see in your garden who are great partners include ladybugs, bumblebees, honeybees, green lacewings (pictured above, courtesy of Greg Bowman, Gordon County CEC, ANR), assassin bugs and many others!
Ladybugs are an ally in the fight against other pests. They are known to consume aphids, mites, mealybugs and whiteflies that can damage plants. Bumblebees, honeybees and several other bees and wasps are great partners in pollination and some even provide pest control of garden insect pests. Green lacewings are a predator of pests including aphids and other soft-bodied insects. Assassin bugs live up to their name by taking out garden pests.
There are a small percentage of insects that are pests and cause damage to our gardens. We've experienced this recently in the Master Gardener Plant A Row demonstration garden with squash bugs. You can learn about some common vegetable garden insect pests in a blog post I shared here on Dallas-Hiram Patch last summer: Most Unwanted Vegetable Garden Pests in Paulding County.
One of the most important things you can do to improve our environment is to learn about and practice integrated pest management, also known as “IPM.” Scout for pests, identify them correctly and treat with pesticides only when there is damage that significantly impacts vegetable and landscape plants. As a part of an IPM strategy, you should welcome beneficial insects in your garden and protect them.
With many insecticides, the active ingredients are not specific, which means the application of an insecticide can eliminate the beneficial insects in the environment as well, taking away your predator and pollinator populations! There are some products available for insect control that do not have long residual activity, so that the chemical dissipates quickly and only affects the insects it makes contact with. Insecticidal soaps are a great product for eliminating a pest, without accidentally removing important beneficial insects.
A word of caution on using soaps for insect control: Be sure to buy a specially formulated insecticidal soap. Do not try to mix up household use soaps for this purpose. They will be effective at insect control, but they may also damage your plants.
Utilize pesticides safely, by reading and following all the label instructions. The label is the law. Even insecticides that are labeled as organic or natural are still pesticides and should be applied with care and knowledge.