Carrot Cousins Are Your Allies in Insect Wars

April 22, 2017

Blooming parsley. Parsley, chervil, anise, dill and other flat-flowered herbs are better than insecticides--they nurture insect-eating insects.


Last summer, we had minimal insect damage in our garden. In fact, it was with reluctance that we eradicated a colony of hostile yellow jackets nesting by the garage door. That was our sole use of insecticide all that long hot season.



Throughout the summer, we saw many ladybugs and praying mantids. I wondered if the beneficial insects were keeping their herbivorous prey in check. I'd like to share what I've learned about promoting predation in the garden.


When we create landscapes both around our homes and in agricultural settings, we radically alter nature's balance of biodiversity. There are always fewer predators than prey. We create conditions fostering an overabundance of plant-eating pests while minimizing their predators’ numbers. This can leave the most avid butterfly and pollinator friends in a state of despair over the appearance of the garden and the condition of the harvest.


About 75 years ago, synthetic chemical insecticides were introduced to reduce crop loss. Their use has had many unintended consequences. Among these are the development of resistance and non-target killing. The degree of toxicity was unanticipated. The consequences are not fully understood. Research continues.


Those of us who try to attract swallowtails to lay eggs in our patches are unwittingly contributing to a solution. Swallowtail larvae love to munch on plants with umbrella-shaped flowers. Beneficial insects such as tiny predator wasps find a secure perch on the flat flowers from which to drink their nectar. Try adding the aromatic herbal carrot cousins below to the garden to develop a harmless community of insect-killing insects.


Anise, dill, caraway, coriander, and cumin are annuals. They will produce their distinctive flat clustered flowers throughout the summer. Fennel, chervil and lovage are perennial. Sensational angelica is biennial as is the ever-popular parsley. Cultivating a collection of these herbs creates a multistoried habitat in which predators such as the praying mantis can lurk, concealed from their prey.  (Photo: lovage flowers.)

Clearly, herb gardeners have an advantage in fostering biologic control of garden pests.


Master gardener Ann Bartlett never lets lack of familiarity with a plant stop her from trying it in the ornamental beds around her home.

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