Fairchild’s tropical garden column

Attracting beneficial insects to your garden


Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden

You might ask, “Why would I ever want to attract bugs to my garden?”

Many bugs are beneficial to have around your plants, and their presence can actually be a sign of a healthy, thriving plot of land. Although some have a reputation as pests, insects are also pollinators, predators and decomposers — all very important roles in a balanced ecosystem.

There is a beautiful phrase that says “Farm like the forest.” What this suggests is that nature is capable of maintaining a perfect balance, and we have a lot to learn from observing how things exist in the natural world. A forest ecosystem has a web of diverse and interdependent species, each filling a unique niche in that ecosystem. We can learn a lesson from that model and apply it to our own backyards.

Promoting species diversity is one way to increase your chances for a successful garden, and there are some simple steps you can take to get started.

Start with a diverse selection of plants. Whether you are planting a vegetable garden or a butterfly garden, I recommend mixing several species in your planting area. For example, plant herbs and flowers next to your vegetables. Flowers such as marigolds will help repel certain insect and nematode pests while other flowers such as dill will attract a wealth of pollinators to your garden. A patchwork of diverse plants prevents specific pests or diseases from spreading unchecked through rows or blocks of homogenous single species plantings.

A diversity of plants will in turn attract a diversity of insects. The next step is to sit back and watch nature figure things out on its own. If you observe closely, a population of aphids on a tomato plant will quickly attract a healthy population of ladybugs, which will bring your aphid populations back down to harmless levels in no time.

The key is not to react to every insect in your garden as an immediate threat that needs to be eliminated. Instead, learn to be a careful observer in your garden, taking note of when pests arrive, if and when their natural enemies follow, and at what point the pests might cause a significant threat that must be addressed.

Minimizing or even eliminating your use of pesticides is one of the most important things you can do to promote diversity in your garden. Pesticides will not only kill the pest insect, but will likely kill all of the beneficial insects in the garden. The first round of pesticides alone can create an imbalance in your garden that can lead to a new pest outbreak.

Additionally, many insects are developing pesticide resistance due to the overuse of pesticides, similar to antibiotic resistance in humans. If you must spray pesticides, use a non-toxic option like horticultural oil or soap, which will not persist in the environment nor harm beneficial insects.

Recognize and celebrate nature’s diversity, and remember to “farm like the forest” to enjoy the many bounties your garden has to offer.

Alison Walker is youth education manager at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden.

Read more Home & Garden stories from the Miami Herald

  • North Miami Beach

    City arborist serves by tending the trees in North Miami Beach

    NMB’s city arborist sees trees as an amenity that can improve home values, increase city tax income, and make residents happy.

This upgraded bedroom retreat now features a king size bed, an accent wall featuring a three-piece triptych photo of the Brooklyn Bridge, an ethanol fireplace and an open-concept dressing room with an island.


    Mastering the bedroom in this suite retreat

    Sue and Shouvik are a busy young couple with full-time jobs, a 2-year-old son, and a newborn baby. Life is hectic, and these two need a place to escape the daily hustle and bustle. Their master bedroom is huge but oddly shaped and they struggle with trying to lay out their furniture.

  • Condo Line

    Can manager run for the board of directors?

    Q: The owner of the management company that has a contract with our building is running for the board because some of the owners asked the manager to run. Is there anything wrong with the manager running for the board? It seems to me that this would be a conflict of interest.

Miami Herald

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category