Attracting Beneficial Insects with Native Flowering Plants (E2973)

Attracting Beneficial Insects with Native Flowering Plants (E2973)

Conservation of natural enemies of insects (predators and parasitoids) and pollinators (bees) around the farm or garden can help suppress pests and increase crop yields. Many beneficial insects rely on plants for nectar and pollen or shelter.

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Introduction

Conservation of natural enemies of insects (predators and parasitoids) and pollinators (bees) around the farm or garden can help suppress pests and increase crop yields. Many beneficial insects rely on plants for nectar and pollen or shelter. Plants commonly recommended to provide these resources are non-native annuals such as: buckwheat, sweet alyssum, faba bean, dill, and coriander. In a recent Michigan State University study, we wanted to learn whether native Midwestern perennial plants could provide similar resources.

We selected 46 native Michigan plants on the basis of their bloom periods and ability to survive in agricultural habitats. All of the species selected historically grew in prairie or oak savanna habitats. Once common in Michigan, prairies and oak savannas are now rare, as are many of the plants and animals that formerly utilized these habitats. By returning these plants to Michigan landscapes, we may be able to increase both pollination and pest control in agricultural crops while enhancing our native biodiversity.

Plant testing

Native species were established as rooted plug or 1-quart potted plants in the fall of 2003 and compared to the non-native annuals, which were planted as seed the following spring. During the 2004 and 2005 growing seasons, we determined dates of peak bloom for each species and collected insects at flowers during peak bloom. We then identified predator, parasitoid and pollinator insects collected at each plant species.

Our goal was to identify a group of native plants that can provide flowers throughout the growing season and are highly attractive to beneficial insects.

Establishing native plants

Local sources of native seed and potted plant material are available for Michigan and many other areas. Where possible, use local genotypes — i.e., plant material originally collected in your area and best adapted for your conditions.

Determine where you would like to establish native plants. If it is a large area (greater than 500 square feet), consider using seed to establish plants, which will flower in 3 to 5 years. If a smaller area, rooted seedlings sold in plugs or pots will flower in 1 to 2 years and will allow you to choose the position of each plant.

Consult a local native plant producer for seed mixes or plants most appropriate for your light, soil type, and moisture conditions, as well as for proper plant spacing.

Site preparation to minimize weeds is crucial to project success. Depending on the history of your site, plan on 3 months to 2 years for proper preparation. Professional plant and seeding installation services are available. If you are seeding an area yourself, you can hand broadcast seed with good results. Seed drills require a good deal of time and seed to calibrate correctly, so they are most effectively used on areas larger than an acre.

Please note: The information presented in this bulletin should be considered a guideline to be adapted for your local conditions. MSU makes no warranty about the use of the information presented here.

 

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