Fighting Fruit Tree Pests with Beneficial Bugs

Native flowering plants attract beneficial bugs to your fruit trees

If you have fruit trees, you definitely want pollinators in your garden – but there are other types of beneficial bugs that will battle fruit tree pests on your behalf. Learn how to attract them into your orchard in this blog.

There’s a hidden world in every garden and orchard, a tiny jungle filled with insects living among your plants. Some are pests, and wreak havoc on your garden’s hard work; other are beneficial bugs, taking care of the pests in their own special ways.

In a recent episode of the Urban Forestry Radio Show, author and horticulturalist Jessica Walliser of Pittsburgh, PA, took some time to discuss how to encourage good bugs to come and help you fight off fruit tree pests, with Susan Poizner of OrchardPeople.com. Walliser is the author of Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden, which goes in depth into the world of garden insects and how a grower may use them to their advantage.

Jessica Walliser.

Jessica Walliser, author of Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden.

Are Fruit Tree Pests a Big Problem?

There are over a million species of discovered insects in the world, with scientists estimating twice that number existing in the world, waiting to be discovered. Less than 1 per cent of these are agricultural pests – and in her book, Walliser says that if we can turn our time and energy away from fighting bad bugs and into supporting good bugs, the bad bugs would naturally be pushed back.

The Three Types of Beneficial Bugs

Walliser described three different beneficial insect populations; the pollinators, the predators, and the parasitoids. Each population does its own part to help a garden thrive.

The Pollinators

Pollinators are self-explanatory – they pollinate! This group includes any critter that helps pollinate a garden; bees, wasps, butterflies, beetle species, even hummingbirds. This is the group that most people think of when they hear the term ‘beneficial insects’.

The Predators

Predators are any insect that captures and consumes another one directly. Spiders, ladybugs, mantises, anything that eats other bugs. These are essential members of the garden’s ecosystem, and we especially love the ones that prey on pests.

The Parasitoids

Parasitoids are a little more gruesome – these are the bugs that capture and use other bugs as food for their young. For example, certain wasps are known to lay their eggs in live caterpillars – eventually leading to the death of the host, as the parasitoid larvae hatch and feed.

A Healthy Garden as a Small Ecosystem

Much like lions preying on the gazelle of the African Savannah, a healthy garden becomes a tiny micro-ecosystem of predatory and prey. So instead of growing your fruit trees in a monoculture, with little more than trees and grass, you might consider “Farmscaping”. Farmscaping helps you to bring diversity into your orchard  by introducing a wide variety of plants to your growing space. Planting hedgerows or windbreaks helps alter airflow, and flowering plants (other than your fruit trees) attract a wide variety of insects. These beneficial bugs bring complexity and competition to your growing space and they reduce the ability for pests to have free reign.
So what can the average grower plant to bring beneficial insects into the their orchard? Walliser suggests six things to consider that will fit into any orchard, small or large. And here they are:

Six Steps to Bringing Beneficial Bugs to Your Orchard

Sunflowers.

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Like their name suggests, sunflowers are cheerful, sun-loving flowers that pollinators go crazy for.

 

Sunflowers are great at creating nectar and pollen, which attract and help many beneficial insects like ladybugs and lacewings. They also create nectar through “extra-floral nectaries”, glands beneath their leaves that create nectar outside of the flower. An excellent addition to any garden.

BEETLE BANK.

Ornamental Grasses like 'Karl Foerster' feather reed grass can be part of a Beetle Bank, especially if they are left up during the winter as a place for insects to overwinter. Combined with perennials like "Autumn Joy" Sedum, they can be an effective part of an insectary planting.

Ornamental Grasses like ‘Karl Foerster’ feather reed grass can be part of a beetle bank, especially if they are left up during the winter as a place for insects to overwinter. Combined with perennials like “Autumn Joy” sedum, they can be an effective part of an insectary planting.

Beetle banks or beetle bumps are small habitats for beetles. Research by members of the University of Oregon. A raised berm raised up about 12-18 inches from the ground, with native grasses that are welcome to grow all season long. This becomes a shelter for native ground beetles that prey upon grubs, slugs, maggots, and other pests.

INSECTARY PLANTINGS.

Flowering plants like echinacea, shasta daisies, and blue false indigo all make wonderful additions to effective insectaries.

Flowering plants like echinacea, shasta daisies, and blue false indigo all make wonderful additions to effective insectaries.

 

In this context, an insectary is a bed or border around the orchard or garden that houses a diversity of flowering perennials and annuals, which house beneficial insects in shelter. The second half of Walliser’s book discusses attracting specific plants – if you’re having trouble with certain insects, consider adding more of a plant that attracts their predators.

HEDGEROWS.

Elderberry shrubs are hardy plants native to North America that can be used as good hedgerows.

Elderberry shrubs are hardy plants native to North America that can be used as good hedgerows.

A hedgerow creates a microclimate, breaking the strength of wind while also building a small habitat for insects to live within all year round. Any kind of native flowering shrub in a steady row through an orchard will help out. They work best as a blend of shrubs, perennials, and native grasses creating a shelter for local insects to live within.

BAT BOXES.

Bat boxes are easily constructed, and behave a lot like a birdhouse will - just for bats! Put them on a high pole or somewhere similar for best results. Photo from pixabay.com.

Place bat boxes them on a high pole or somewhere similar for best results. Photo from pixabay.com.

Bat boxes are easily constructed, and behave a lot like a birdhouse will – just for bats! Bat boxes are simple wooden structures built to shelter wild bats in an area. Bats consume large numbers of nocturnal insects, many of which are pests that aren’t handled by daytime helpers.

BIRDHOUSES.

Good, practical birdhouses that receive regular maintenance are the best for attracting birds to your garden or orchard.

Good, practical birdhouses that receive regular maintenance are the best for attracting birds to your garden or orchard.

Good sensible birdhouses that attract and house beneficial bug-eating birds are great additions to any garden or orchard. Woodpeckers, chickadees, wrens, and more come and become part of the natural predator-prey cycle. Sure, they might eat good bugs too – but that’s alright, it’s the natural order of things.

And that’s what it comes down to, helping encourage the natural order of things, bringing in the good bugs that are your pests’ natural predators.

Click here to read about how to create a permaculture garden. To listen to the entire interview, click on the audio link below. And…if you want to learn more about growing fruit trees that thrive, visit www.orchardpeople.com/workshops.

Listen to the Interview on Bringing Beneficial Bugs to Your Orchard

Kameron Chausse

Kameron Chausse

Intern at OrchardPeople.com.

Kameron Chausse is a Windsor, Ontario based writer and student at St Clair College. He is currently an intern for the fruit tree care education website www.orchardpeople.com.