Bee on red zinnia flower

Beneficial insects outnumber pests overall

Don’t be so eager to reach for the pesticide spray at the first sight of a bug in your garden. Why? In reality only about 3% of the insect population actually does any kind of harm to our plants. That leaves 97% percent that are actually good bugs or just neutral. Joe gets a first-hand look at how the horticultural community is embracing biological controls.

Suzanne Wainwright-Evans blends her degrees in environmental horticulture and entomology, into a unique skill as an “ornamental entomologist” specializing in Integrated Pest Management establishing that there is a safer way to treat pest problems. Her company, Bug Lady Consulting, specializes in controlling pests within the green industry; specifically greenhouses and nurseries.

Suzanne checkin for insects at the wholesale grower

These ‘Black Pearl’ pepper plants act as a food source to maintain a good level of predator insects

Most often asked, “Where do insects come from”, she responds that they can arrive on the wind or use visual clues to find their food source and hitchhike from the garden center. She suggests that if you want to have a pest problem in your garden start spraying! By that she means non-selective synthetic pesticides will also kill beneficial insects, which will only exacerbate the problem.

And, how does she tell a good bug from a bad bug? Suzanne says if she sees a lot of insects hanging out together they are usually up to no good. In other cases, if you observe the insect, you can actually see the damage they are doing such as with caterpillars.

(Keep in mind that butterflies are pollinators so determine your tolerance for acceptable damage)

But once a pest problem has been identified, only select a product for that specific issue. Products on the market today are so much smarter and are able to narrowly target certain species. Bio-controls, which are federally regulated, are a natural way to control pests without the fear of releasing an invasive species into the environment.

Ornamental kale and cabbage grow harmoniously in the sun

Ornamental kale and cabbage share the same ideal growing conditions.

At home there are several precautions we can take to minimize pest problems. The first line of defense is to plant the right plant in the right place. Read the label and follow those guidelines. Be careful not to over-fertilize or over-water. Plants that are stressed by these practices are more vulnerable to insect attacks. Also, utilize plants that attract beneficials. Varieties with small flowers such as alyssum, dill and basil are very useful for drawing predator insects to your garden.

Suzanne and Joe focus on several of the unsung heroes of the garden, a number of which are available for purchase. One of the most popular is the lady beetle. Suzanne cautions against purchasing adult ladybugs, but rather encourages purchasing laboratory-reared larvae instead. Adult ladybugs are harvested from the wild and immediately refrigerated. As such, when they arrive they do not have the voracious appetite the larvae do, are prone to fly away and may carry diseases that affect native ladybird beetles.

Check the underside of the leaves for signs of pests or disease

Don’t forget to check under the leaves.

So what are some precautions can we take at the garden center before we even bring plants home? Joe suggests what to look for when making your purchase at the garden center. Checking the condition of the leaves, especially the undersides, and the root system will go a long way to ensure you are bringing home a plant in the best possible condition. Finally, a strong blast of water to cleanse the leaves gives extra assurance you have dislodged any opportunists you didn’t see.

But where it really starts is with the grower. Joe and OVW Greenhouse manager, Rich Densel, talk about the tactics they use to keep beneficial insects working inside the nursery. With thousands of plants all of the same variety, a monoculture so to speak, the potential for a serious pest outbreak is all the more probable. Here is where Suzanne has focused her energy into helping the wholesaler manage pests non-traditionally; without pesticides.

The retention pond now boasts a robust ecosystem

Without chemical run-off the retention pond boasts a robust ecosystem.

Four years ago Rich admits he had the “see bug, spray bug” mentality. Now the nursery is more proactive, introducing beneficials before pests can get a foothold. The benefits extend from more natural looking, colorful plants to the pond that retains excess water run-off on the property. Today the pond is chemical free and boasts a robust ecosystem.

For those of us at home, supporting a company that is helping to reduce chemical overuse benefits the planet by way of cleaner air, cleaner land and cleaner water. Likewise that chemical residue doesn’t come home to the family but the good guy predators do and happily take up residence in our own gardens.

Chef Nathan makes the most of vegetables that come into season all at the same time. He makes a flavorful succotash using all organic summer corn, bell peppers and onions.

For more information

Joe’s Podcasts with Suzanne:  Part 1 and Part 2

Buglady Consulting

Glossary of Pest Management terms

Where to purchase the Good Guys

BioBest Biological Systems

OVW Greenhouses

Articles from the Buglady

Association of Natural Biocontrol Producers


Growing A Greener World is a national gardening series on Public Television that features organic gardening, green living and farm to table cooking. Each episode focuses on compelling and inspirational people making a difference through gardening. This gardening series covers everything from edible gardening and sustainable agriculture to seasonal cooking and preserving the harvest.

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  1. Martha Beattie says

    Hi Suzanne,
    I would like a suggestion to buy a loop for my garden.
    What woulg you suggest. I have already a 10 x one and I find this not
    Strong enough. Also looking for a microscope for the house. What should I
    Buy? I need something good
    Thank you
    Martha Beattie

    • says

      You might want to try a 30X lens which is used for viewing mites and other smaller things. You can also find the hand lenses now with LED lights build in which really aids in viewing. On the microscope, if you are wanting to look at insects and plants you would more want a dissecting scope. Microscopes are used more for things like blood and tissue mounted on slides.

    • says

      Hi Sharon and glad you like the series. As for purchasing honey bee supplies, I don’t have a suggestion that I’ve tried frist hand. But there are many options online. When I typed in “honey bee supplies” I got lots of hits, including this one which looks to have everything you need to get started, including educational opportunities. Good luck and let us know what you find out.
      I’m planning on ordering my hives this summer and would interested in your experience. Thanks.

  2. Laura Moleon says

    I built a garden pond. It has goldfish in it but no plants yet. The water is green. I do not want to use chemicals to get rid of the green water. The pond gets about five hours of sun and I know that is the problem but what can I do to clear the water? It does have a home made filter. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

    • Jill says

      We used to put a small bale of barley straw in our filter. It tales a while to work (like a month or 2 after it’s wet- the decomposing straw creates something that inhibits algae) However, they make a barley straw extract that works much quicker- don’t know if you would consider that “adding chemicals” though. I think if you google something like ‘barley straw for algae control’, you will probably find info.
      Good luck with your pond- Jill

  3. Karen Cressall says

    This was my first video I watched on GGW and my favorite (GGW has so many good ideas that my head is spinning: ) I have swayed away from pesticides many years ago(use a soap, water, olive oil mix for spot spray)!!! The lady bug part was ver…y interesting!!! I have seen the larva and really did not know what it was (the bug lady knows : ) but left it alone (Go ladybug)!!Learning about plants that attract the beneficials in turn the beneficials take care of the pest, then you have a healthy plant which some of those healthy plants will help sustain the beneficials when not feeding on the pests (awesome food chain)! I was very impressed with the garden center information!! Nice to hear they are now proactive and the retention pond is not a chemical pond-but now a thriving pond that can sustain water lilies…The trickle down can affect so many areas of life (good and bad)…it is up to all of us to educate ourselves and make it a positive/safe environment!!! Thanks for all the information you have on your website!!!It is so nice to have a one stop education site!!!! Any ideas about trying to control grasshoppers? Keep the the information and ideas coming guys!!!!

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