Friends of the Garden: Beneficial Insects

By Janice Brown of On the Grow

Could you outrun Usain Bolt when confronted by a bug in the garden? In my line of work I often run across the well-meaning, would-be-gardener who says, “I want to start gardening, but I hate bugs! What can I plant that won’t attract bugs?” After a hearty laugh, I go into my spiel about insects being an important part of any garden and let them know, there is no gardening without bugs. If you’re squeamish, take heart! After we look at all the good things these little guys do, maybe you will begin to appreciate and tolerate them a little more. Let’s look at a three particular insects that benefit our garden, but seem a little scary to some.



I’m starting here because bees are such an important part of our environment and their numbers are declining. Bees are important because they are the greatest pollinator of flowers. To bring this closer to home or our dinner tables, that means the flowers from which most fruits and vegetables derive from, depend on bees to pollinate them so the fruit will develop. So if you want to have any kind of food production from your garden, you need bees.

Take heart if you’re afraid of them. The bottom line is we are not on their diet, so they really aren’t interested in us. Most importantly, they DO NOT want to sting us! When a bee stings someone, its stinger (which is a part of its body) usually breaks off in the victim causing the bee to die, so bees do not want to sting anyone. They use stinging as a last resort, usually when we are swatting at them and they feel threatened. The best thing to do when you see a bee is to ignore it and don’t make a lot of sudden, jerky movements. I work side-by-side with bees every day in gardens and never get stung. I enjoy watching these fascinating creatures that come in so many varieties. There are more than 300 types of bees that are native to Texas. From the giant bumble and carpenter bees to tiny little iridescent varieties that are often mistaken for small flies, these insects are worth a second look in the garden.


Here’s another group of insects that get a bad rap in nature. Although they can be a bit more aggressive than bees, we only see this when they too are provoked. They serve as pollinators too, but their main job is preying on other insects that harm our crops. For instance, the tomato hornworm which can decimate a tomato plant is a walking meal for a particular small wasp who lays its eggs on the caterpillar’s back. When the larvae hatch they eat the caterpillar. I know it’s gruesome, but you were planning on squashing the hornworm anyway, so now at least it done its part in the circle of life. Think of wasps as free organic pesticides. Leave them be and let them work for free!


I don’t know when the aversion to worms begins, but it’s certainly not in childhood. Practically, all the children I work with in gardens love worms! Most of their work is done out of our sight, but it is no less important. Worms aerate and enrich the soil. This is most important to those of us near the cost who are on clay soil. We know that clay can be hard as a brick. Worms play a big part in making compost which loosens clay. In the gardening world, their poop is known as black gold because it is nutrient rich. My students often get a good giggle out of me telling them people actually buy worm poop! It’s true. There’s gold in that thar’ poop! Too much? I apologize. I get a little carried away when it comes to worms. Hopefully you will too. Earthworms are also barometers of soil quality, so if you come up with some of these slimy little fellows every time you dig in, consider yourself lucky and a good gardener!

Get to know the bugs in your garden better and you may just end up with a better garden.

JaniceBrownOn the Grow is a garden coaching service launched by Janice Brown to teach people how to be successful gardeners in the sometimes difficult, Gulf Coast climate. On the Grow provides garden education for the home gardener, children in outdoor classrooms, neighbors in community gardens, and employees in workplace gardens. Whether you want a new idea for a girls’ night out, a new way to engage children in nature, or want to implement a fresh wellness program in your company, On the Grow is here for you. Your coach will take you step by step teaching you the basics, while presenting you with a fresh perspective by helping you experience the healing benefits of gardening. Our mission at On the Grow is to help everyone experience the joy of a garden and build a greater connection to Mother Earth. Connect with One The Grow on Facebook and Twitter!

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