Gardening: Good Bug, Bad Bug

By Tiffany Selvey, Master Gardener and mama of 1

I’ve never had the typical “freak out” factor about bugs that folks expect from southern ladies. From the very beginning, I have found the world of insects fascinating. I didn’t like them to the extreme of wanting to become an entomologist, but rather on a superficial entertainment level, like a tiny, slow-moving TV show.

I still love to sit and watch the bugs in my garden although now my observations are as much about entertainment as they are about functionality. It’s important that I know what the good guys and the bad guys are doing.

Before I can know what my bugs are doing, I must be able to identify them. While some are easy to identify, others can be tricky. Here are a few insects that can easily be mistaken for each other:

ladybug cucumber beetleLadybugs and Cucumber Beetles: Sure, we all know what ladybugs look like. They are perfectly round in shades of orange and red, some with dots, some without. Similar beetles, called cucumber beetles, are sometimes mistaken for friendly ladybugs because they are also spotted beetles. While ladybugs are excellent at keeping aphids away, cucumber beetles actually do damage to plant leaves and fruit.

bee wasp

Bees and Wasps- They both sting when agitated, but there are many benefits to bees in the garden while wasps are just pests. In all my years of gardening, I’ve never been stung by a bee. I work around them all the time, often harvesting fruits while they collect nectar. I’ve never seen one act aggressively toward me. Wasps, on the other hand, will chase and sting. They are bad dudes and they hurt! Keep the bees, we need them as valuable pollinators, but steer clear of wasps.

butterfly cabbage mothButterflies and Cabbage Moths- Butterflies add beauty to the garden and act as living indicators of a healthy garden environment. There are many types of butterflies that you should be happy to see in the garden, but if you see something that looks like a small white butterfly circling any brassicas (kale, cabbages, broccoli, etc.), this is a cabbage moth.

There are many different management techniques for each pest, a topic better suited for a book than a blog post, but there are great online resources for pest management. If you have gardening questions or need help identifying the good vs. the bad, join and post to our NWA Gardeners facebook page. We would be happy to help!