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Attracting beneficial bugs

I plant chives and let some flower because I've heard they repel Japanese beetles. But I don't want to repel all insects from my garden because some of them eat bad bugs such as aphids and spider mites.

Kerry Smith is an extension horticulture specialist with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. She says as a gardener, you should be able to identify which insects are helpful and which are harmful. Ladybugs, hoverflies, assassin bugs, and a certain group of stink bugs are examples of insects that attack harmful pests in the garden. She says the best way to keep them around is to provide flowering plants.

"We call them predators because they eat other insects, but they also depend on pollen and nectar from flowers just like honey bees do," says Smith. "So pollen gives them protein, nectar gives them carbohydrates for quick energy, and when they can't find insects to eat, then they're going to be looking for flowers that they can sustain themselves with."

Smith recommends incorporating plants that will provide as long a bloom time as possible. This is easily managed with a butterfly or herb garden.

"Aster, that's the biggest plant family we have in North America so it's easy to find asters multiple times of the year. The cabbage and/or mustard family, believe it or not, let your lettuces, let your broccoli, let your cabbage go to flower in the spring," she says. "It's helpful to the beneficial insects. The mint family, the parsley family, which is fennel and dill, and parsley and carrots, and the bean family."

Insecticides will kill off the bad bugs but can also harm the beneficial insects. Smith says if you must use them, avoid broad-spectrum insecticides and try to only target the pest when you spray.

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