Beneficial Bugs: Natural Pest Control

shazzamWe all know ladybugs are benficial bugs, but did you know there are other beneficial bugs like mites and wasps? Mites and wasps?! Beneficial?? No way! But they are! There are tons of things we associate with being “bad” that can actually be super beneficial to our plants, including nematodes, fungi, mites, and other bugs!

Beneficial bugs can be just as effective as pesticides in getting rid of pest infestations, without the chemicals or any detriment to the environment.

There are natural methods to strengthen your plant and protect them from pests, let’s talk about strengthening our plants first!

Of course, the best way to strengthen your plant is giving it the right conditions. Before buying a plant, always look into its growing needs to find out if you can provide the proper growing conditions for it. A plant growing in conditions that are not optimal will be much more susceptible to pests and disease than one growing in the right conditions.

Another natural carnivorous plant strengthener is a beneficial fungi called Trichoderma ssp. I’ve seen this fungi generally used on Heliamphora, Nepenthes, and Cephalotus and it is extremely helpful. (I use it on Helis and Neps). How it works is it forms a symbiotic relationship with the plant and strengthens it by enhancing growth, increasing nutrient uptake, and protecting it from other stressors and bad fungus. Using Trichoderma is easy but should be used regularly to really benefit from it, doing a monthly drench on your plants with Trichoderma makes it very effective. Read more about Trichoderma HERE.

If you are interested in buying Trichoderma, Ampabiotech.com is a great place to purchase it from.

Now let’s get into the awesome bugs that can get rid of pest bugs! Of course some of these bugs will be consumed by our plants, but they can still be pretty effective at controlling and getting rid of pests.

Predatory Mites:

Predatory mites are awesome for getting rid of a handful of pests including thrips, spider mites1 along with any other pest mites, and small insects. The thing about predatory mites is they will not do well in cold climates, they generally need warmer temperature and high-ish humidity, so make sure you can provide that before spending money on them. If you are able to provide those conditions, you’re in luck.

Predatory mites are called predatory mites for a reason, they are true hunters and have a large appetite, they will be very quick to eat the pests, very active, and very thorough. The females will lay eggs right away which are double the size of the pest eggs and hatch quickly after a few days, once the eggs hatch, the baby mites join the adult mites in feeding on the pests and their eggs. If you have an infestation of pests, you should get predatory mites within 1-2 weeks of noticing the infestation. If it is a heavier infestation you may need to release predatory mites more than once. Once predatory mites run out of food (pests) to eat, they will very quickly starve and die. Predatory mites do not eat mealybugs, aphids, whiteflies, or scale.

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Here is a list of predatory mites that are available commercially:

Phytoseiulus persimilis – This is the most common and recommended predatory mite, it thrives in relative humidity of around 60% and 90% and likes temperatures of 70˚F and up. These mites will starve and die quickly if they do not find food.

Mesoseiulus longipes – This mite is similar to P. persimilis but can handle lower humidity (around 40% at the lowest). It also likes higher temperatures up to 100˚F but needs more humidity as the temperature rises. This mite consumes eggs and all stages of pest mites.DSC_0792b

Neoseiulus californicus – There is an upside and a downside to these guys, they eat pests slower, but do not starve as quickly as other predatory mites, meaning they will stick around longer, so if pests re-infest a plant they may still be present. They need warm temperatures up to 90˚F and at least 60% relative humidity.

Anystis_mite_predating_Aphis_hederae_c2011-05-28_10-27-06e1ewGalendromus occidentalis – These guys are able to handle more environments and eat a wider range of pests than some of the other species of predatory mites. It will handle being outdoors better and can handle a lower humidity of around 50% RH. This mite is also tolerant to some pesticides including Sevin.

You can buy a mix of predatory mites on Amazon, the best deal to me looks like a 2000 mite pack, you can click here for the link, or look at the other options of mites on Amazon here.

Beneficial Nematodes:

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The awesome thing about these nematodes is they are safe to people, pets, earthworms, and the environment. Predatory Nematodes control a wide range of pest bugs and are extremely effective in dark areas, including roots and crevices of plants. These guys are awesome to use in conjunction with other beneficial bugs. These nematodes are known to attack over 230 pest insects and can also reach insects that bore into the plant. They are most effective in hunting and killing larvae, maggots, and caterpillars but do go after adult insects as well.sf10

Nematodes are super easy to use, when the sun begins to set, sprinkle the nematodes in the infected pot/soil and water them. The humidity should be semi-high and can be accomplished with watering more often for that period. After 24 hours, the nematodes should start killing off pests! The pots treated with beneficial nematodes should be protected from direct sun for a while, if the nematodes receive protection, they can survive for up to 18 months. Steinernema feltiae is a very effective beneficial nematode, a very good version of them to buy is Scanmask, you can get them on Amazon here, but can look through other options on Amazon here.

Mealybug Destroyers:

mealybug-destroyer1800px-Mealybug_Ladybird_Cryptolaemus_montrouzieriMealybug destroyers, Cryptolaemus montrouzieri, are awesome, but before you spend a lot of money on them, know that your plants will likely eat A LOT of them since they are also attracted to the taste of sugary dew of our carnivores.
The cool thing about these beneficial bugs is that in all stages of their life, they eat all stages of mealybugs. They also eat aphids and other kinds of soft scale. They are happiest at 70˚F. Also note that young stages of C. montrouzieri look very similar to mealybugs, so if it seems like your mealybug problem has suddenly gotten worse, give it a few days for the mealybug destroyers to mature. These beneficial bugs take about a week to become adults and live for up to two months, but probably don’t have a lifespan of that length with carnivorous plants tempting them everywhere.

These bugs are pretty expensive anywhere you look, but you can find them here on Amazon.

This is what mealybug destroyer larva looks like This is what mealybug destroyer larva looks like.
This is what a mealybug looks like, that is why it may seem like your mealybug infestation will jump out of control after introducing mealybug destroyers! This is what a mealybug looks like, that is why it may seem like your mealybug infestation will jump out of control after introducing mealybug destroyers!

 

 

 Parasitic Wasps:

wasp aphid warfare
Parasitic wasp and aphid.

Hyposoter sp., a parasitoid of cabbage butterflies in actionParasitic wasps?! That sounds like the worst idea, right? Did you know, almost every kind of pest species has a parasitic wasp that preys on it? These aren’t the kinds of wasps you normally envision when you read the word wasp, they look more like flies. The even better part about parasitic wasps is that they aren’t as enticed by carnivorous plants as mealybug destroyers, so their population isn’t as likely to be decimated by our plants before even putting a dent in the pest infestation. Before you buy any parasitic wasp, find one for the pest you’re having issues with, there are several wasps for aphids (Aphidius colemani, Aphidius ervi, Aphelinus abdominalis, etc), wasps for armored scale (Aphytis melinus), and many others. Please do some further research into which wasp you might need and what conditions it needs to survive and be effective in.

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This article barely scratches the surface in terms of beneficial bugs and natural methods of controlling and eliminating pests on your plants. I know that beneficial bugs aren’t the first thing people go to when they have pests, and it is probably because they just aren’t talked about much. Feel free to do more research and leave comments if you have used beneficial bugs and how effective they were for you.

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