Why in the world am I thinking about how to attract insects and birds to my garden?
In one of my past blog posts about things you can do in the winter in and for your garden, I mentioned strategizing and coming up with a plan to combat insect infestations. In order to flesh that strategy out a bit more, I wanted to share my plan for attracting beneficial insects that play two different roles. The first role is as a pollinator to the flowers that are planted on the farm. The second role is as a beneficial predator to insects that cause damage to my flowers. I also want to attract birds and bats as insect predators.
Pollinators are so important to gardens, vegetable farms, and flower farms. Pollinators carry pollen on their bodies and move that pollen around to different plants and flowers. They specifically move pollen from the male anther of the flower to the female stigma. (We are talking about the birds and the bees here). By doing this, pollinators begin the reproduction process for the plant, which includes the production of seed and fruit. The majority of plants need help from pollinators to begin this process. Pollinators can be insects or vertebrates (birds and mammals). The most common insect pollinators are bees, wasps, moths, butterflies, flies, and beetles. Vertebrates include birds, hummingbirds, bats, and possums.
The other kind of insect I want to attract to my flower beds are beneficial insects. These insects play an important role, as well. Predator insects eat other insects that can harm my plants. Parasitizers lay eggs on or in the harmful insects. When the eggs hatch, the larva feed on that bug. Some of the beneficial insects I want to attract to my farm are ladybugs, green lacewings, praying mantises, ground beetles, robber flies, and parasitic wasps.
Birds and bats are also important to a garden or farm because they eat insects. I am, specifically, wanting to attract wrens and swallows to my farm, along with hummingbirds.
Plan of action
The most important step for attracting pollinators, beneficial insects, and birds is not using insecticides, which would kill what you are trying to attract.
The first practical step I took this fall to increase the presence of birds and beneficial insects was leaving many of my plants in the ground to provide a safe habitat. This is an easy step because it means that I was able to leave my perennial beds intact for insects and bird to use over the winter. As I was cleaning up the perennials the other day, I found a praying mantis egg sack, which was reason enough to not touch the perennials for a few months. I also mulch with leaves in the fall, which helps create a habitat for insects, which birds love to eat.
**Updated. There are different species of praying mantis. The Chinese and European mantis are invasive while the Carolina mantis is native. Unfortunately, the egg sack above belongs to the invasive Chinese mantis. This post helped me identify the egg sack and make the decision to destroy it as Chinese mantis "outcompete the Carolina mantis for food sources and even enjoy the Carolina mantis as a meal" (2).
My next strategy is to provide water for insects and birds in a few different locations around the farm. I am specifically thinking of a few shallow dishes with marbles for bees, a birdbath, and a hummingbird feeder. The marbles in a shallow dish allow the bees to land, drink, and not drown. It is important to note that the water will need to be replaced regularly to discourage mosquitoes.
I want to get my kids involved in building bird houses to attract swallows and wrens. There is great information on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's website that is specific to the type of bird you want to attract. A bird house near the flower beds will keep the birds close by to graze on harmful insects (like Japanese beetles).
Creating habitats that are friendly to beneficial insects, birds, and bats will help relieve insect pressure on your garden, farm, or in your yard. Consider implementing some of these strategies this spring before your plants really start growing.