As solitary of a pastime gardening is, I sometimes have to remind myself that I’m not the only one working in the garden. It’s a little bit humbling to consider how planting and nurturing a garden really means you’re creating a whole ecosystem. I don’t mean to get all sappy on you, but with the habitats of so many important insects disappearing these days, it’s kind of a big deal. Pollinators are so important for keeping us fed, so offering them food and shelter is a big deal to us at Royal City Nursery.
However, pollinators aren’t the only other co-workers we have in the garden. There are also beneficial insects that keep pests at bay. Speaking of keeping us fed, these tiny heroes do the dirty work of eating the bad bugs before they dig into our prized fruits and vegetables. We even carry a few of those guys at Royal City Nursery to help our customers establish colonies in their gardens. Here are some of our favourites, and why we love them.
These insects are the guardians of our gardens. With their large appetites for insects that threaten our food and flowers, they’re a much more eco-friendly alternative to pesticides. We carry all three of these insects at our garden centre.
Lacewings – If you aren’t already familiar with lacewings, they look a little bit like a cross between a dragonfly and a butterfly. Lacewings feast on all sorts of annoying pests like aphids, mites, mealybugs, whiteflies, and leafhoppers. The juvenile lacewings are—well, let’s say they’ve got a face only a mother could love. They look a little bit like flattened alien alligators and if you don’t recognize them, it could be tempting to squash them with a shovel. However, these little babies can eat up to 300 aphids before adulthood!
Ladybugs – Love them or hate them, ladybugs are major assets in the garden. While they have a reputation for being little cutie-pies with their red polka-dot shells, they’re more like fierce panthers to garden pests. Like the lacewing, their juveniles are even more fearsome, devouring aphids like a teenage boy with a box of Gushers. Throughout their lifespan, ladybugs can put away up to 5000 aphids! They’ve also been known to do some damage to mealybugs, scale, spider mites, whiteflies, and some beetle species.
Praying Mantis – There’s no denying it—praying mantis are just really, really cool. From their fascinating shape and hunting style to their, er, unconventional mating rituals, they’re kind of like a movie villain you can’t help but respect. Recently, Wellington County School Board started a sustainability unit in their science program that touches on the praying mantis, so now we’re hearing from both gardeners and parents looking to find some to keep as pets. We can’t blame the kids for asking—after all, they’re cool!—but if you keep them as pets, keep them loose in the garden. They’ll go to town on flies, moths, crickets, and best of all, mosquitoes. Talk about answering your prayers!
By now you’ve likely heard all the fuss about saving the bees, but you may not know how serious of an issue it is to lose these crucial pollinators. Ninety percent of flowering plants cannot produce fruit without pollinators to complete the fertilization process. If money is your preferred language, that’s over $1.2 billion in horticulture that is fully dependent on pollinating animals. That’s a lot of cash, and a lot of food. Here are a few of our favourite pollinators to see in the garden.
Mason Bees – Unlike honey bees, who live and die to protect their Queen, mason bees are more like the entrepreneurs of the bee world. They work for themselves, and specialize only in pollination rather than making honey. Also known as blue orchard bees, these bees are much more solitary and gentle than honey bees because they prefer to mind their own beeswax, literally. Well, half-literally. Instead of producing wax, they nest in small holes which they pack with mud. You can purchase these pretty blue bees here at our garden centre.
Leafcutter Bees – Leafcutter bees are a lot like mason bees. They’re also solitary workers who don’t form hives, and they’re also unlikely to sting. Their colours are similar to wasps, with more black on the thorax and abdomen, but their shape is distinctly bee-like. They get their name from their nesting habit, which involves laying eggs in small existing holes and protecting them with bits of leaves. We stock leafcutter bees at our nursery, as well as nesting habitats suitable for leafcutters and masons.
Hummingbirds – Who doesn’t love these graceful pollinators? It’s a little bit magical when you catch a glimpse of these dainty birds sipping from a flower. Some hummingbird species will eat insects while also spreading pollen from flower to flower. Attract them with bright, elongated flowers like columbines, lupine, foxgloves, and daylilies.
Unconventional Pollinators: Friend or Foe?
Even if they help us out with pollination, we have a bit of a love/hate relationship with these pollinators.
Wasps – Better known for hanging out around trash cans rather than gardens, these mean bugs are also natural born pollinators. As long as you’re not holding anything they might fight you for, you can generally just ignore them.
Mosquitos – You don’t have to love them. You don’t even have to like them. However, the fact is that mosquitos are great pollinators and an important food source for birds and other beneficial insects. You can swat them, but don’t spray them. Fogging with chemicals really does a lot more damage than good.
No matter what the size of your garden is, you can make a huge contribution to the world around you by hosting beneficial insects and pollinators. If you have kids, learning about these small-but-mighty animals is a great way to get them interested in science, gardening, and where food comes from. Kids tend to connect with animals, so make it a family project and pick up one of our butterfly, mason bee, or ladybug houses. You’ll increase the biodiversity in your garden while helping to restore balance to Ontario’s natural ecosystem.