Each spring when Packera aurea blooms there are always a few stalks that are covered with aphids! I don't worry about a few aphids since the flowers never seem to decline because of them. (The Happy Flower Trinity)
I didn't always feel that way when I saw aphids sucking the juices out of a plant! Way back when I was less experienced about the role of insects in the garden, I would grab the hose and spray them to oblivion. Now, I recognize them as an important food for predator bugs. In fact, aphids are a primary food source for predator bugs.
|the soft bodied aphids used to creep me out|
|Assassin bug waiting on a coreopsis|
|Sweet alyssum is wonderful in containers placed among native plants|
|Adult hover fly on Gaura. The larva are known to eat aphids|
|Eastern Bluebirds eat mostly insects, but they have been observed eating small amphibians|
Did you know, that if you want birds to live in your garden, you absolutely must have a garden that is hospitable to bugs! I love feeding the birds and keep a feeder up all year long. The birds are entertaining to watch and I feel like I am giving the smaller birds a fighting chance to survive during a cold winter. But, when nesting time arrives, seed is not enough. They need insects to feed their young! According to Doug Tallamy, entomology and wildlife ecology professor at the University of Delaware, a single pair of breeding chickadees must find as many as 6000 caterpillars to rear one clutch of young.
That's a lot of bugs and that's just for one bird family in a garden.
What's a gardener to do:
Plant more natives. Include trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals. (Winter annuals in a native garden)
Plant pollen and nectar rich non-natives to attract beneficials and other insects. (Gardening for wildlife)
Stay away from native plant hybrids and cultivars that are double flowered. They are sterile and have no pollen or nectar for insects and no seeds for the birds. If possible plant “true open-pollinated native wildflowers”.
Don't be in a rush to clean up the fall garden. Leave plant stalks and seed heads standing all winter. Leave those fallen leaves or as many as you can tolerate! Insects over winter in the fallen and decaying leaves.
Build habitats that attract toads.
Dig a pond and wait for the damsel flies and dragonflies to arrive. They will eat mosquitoes which make gardening in the summer a nightmare.
Stack fallen brush, cut tree limbs, broken pots for ground beetles. Ground beetles are excellent at eating "bad bugs'. They're also good bird, toad and small critter food.
Rethink what you consider a pest. Spiders are important predators and bird food!
Learn to tolerate damaged plants. Imperfection is the new perfect.
|If a plant shows signs of aphid distress~twisted, curled or swollen leaves or stems spray with water|
Never, ever, ever, ever, ever use pesticides/insecticides in your garden. I do mean never! Your pollinators, beneficial insects, spiders and insect eating birds will thank you by visiting and setting up house in your garden.
In case you wondered about Golden Ragwort:
The small daisy like golden flowers on tall stems are chock full of pollen and nectar for small bees, flies and butterflies. There are no cultivars of this beauty, the straight species is perfect! (Pollinators and their friends)
Native Range: Eastern North America to Texas
Zone: 3 to 8
Height: 0.50 to 2.50 feet Spread: 0.50 to 1.50 feet
Bloom Time: April Bloom
Sun: Full sun to part shade
Water: Medium to wet
Pollinators: Small bees and butterflies
Gail Eichelberger is a gardener and therapist in Middle Tennessee. She loves wildflowers and native plants and thoroughly enjoys writing about the ones she grows at Clay and Limestone. She reminds all that the words and images are the property of the author and cannot be used without written permission.