Good vs. Bad Garden Bugs: How to Know the Difference


If you are new to gardening or small-scale farming generally, it might seem rational to classify all bugs found in your garden as bad. Even some veteran farmers still have a hard time figuring out which of the bugs on their farms are bad for their plants and which ones are good.

By simple classification, Good garden bugs are the varieties of animals, insects, and other organisms that would help your plants grow directly or indirectly. Therefore, by contrast, bad garden bugs are those animals, insects, or other organisms that can impede the development of your plants directly or indirectly.

This article will help to demystify some of the misconceptions about the garden bug, highlight some of the best ways to recognize the good from the bad bugs and give you tips on balancing your garden bug population.

Good vs. Bad Garden Bugs; What exactly is the difference?

You need to understand the concept of the direct and indirect impact that a certain garden bug might have on your plants. Praying mantis, for instance, is a carnivorous bug that would eat any insect put in its way, even another praying mantis.

This might be good for controlling the population of some of the bad bugs you might have in your garden. Therefore, the praying mantis in this context is a good bug.

Nature is my church. The wind in the trees and the bugs and the frogs. All those things are comfort to me.

Sissy Spacek

However, if you need lots of bees to help propagate the growth of your flowers in your flower garden, for instance, a praying mantis would be considered a bad garden bug. This is because a praying mantis would prey on the bees in your garden.

With these analogies and making things easy for you, many of the bugs discussed in this article will be generally bad and good garden bugs.

Identifying the Good and Bad Buds in Your Garden

Most humans’ instinct is to squash any bug found on their garden or farm immediately, but that is not quite advisable. It would help if you learned to recognize the good from the bad bugs to control the bug population on your farm or garden effectively.

Out of the 1.5 million known species of insects globally, 97% of them are beneficial to farms and gardens, which means that only about 3% of all known insect species in the world are actually destructive to your garden.

Some of the critical animals and insects you need in your garden include bees, butterflies, moths, beetles, and even flies, as they help to pollinate plants.

Other insects help to eat other insects such as the famous ladybird beetle, and green lacewings.

Here is a simple table of generally accepted good and bad garden bugs.

Good BugsBad Bugs
BeesTermites and Ants
Spined Soldier BugAphids (very bad)
NematodeWorms: Apple worm, Cutworms, Wireworms
LadybugBettles: Bean Beetle, Click beetles, Ladybugs with 26 and 28 spots
Syrphid flyMoths: Cabbage moth, Hornworm caterpillars
Green lacewingAmphibians: Cane Toads
EarthwormInsects: Cockroaches, Earwigs, Grasshoppers
Praying Mantis (most cases)Mollusks: Slugs and snails
Braconid-WaspButterfly (not the insect itself but the eggs they lay are harmful to plants)
Ground beetleOthers: Carrot fly and Slaters

Please note that these bugs stated in this article are specific to regions like Europe and Northern America. Therefore, some bugs might not be found in your location.

The process of identifying a new or strange insect on your garden

Whenever you discover a new insect or bug in your garden, and you are not sure what it is, here are a few steps to help you identify your visitor:

Observation of the bug in question

Observe the insect closely to see what it is doing on your plant. Then take a close photograph of the new bug. If the bug is eating your plant, then it is likely a bad bug (pest). Also, take note of whether or not the new bug or insect is present in a large number.

A large number of new insects in your garden could also mean that you have an infestation problem.

Identification of the bug

Compare the photograph of the new bug you found to any previous bugs you have killed or exterminated before. You can also check other expert sites for new bugs posted to compare with your new visitors, like the Agricultural Research Service Image Gallery and The Bugwood Insect Images.

If you can confirm that you have an invasive pest on your hands, you need to take steps to prevent the spread.

Controlling the bug problem

The best way to control the spread of a new pest is to use high-quality pest control products. You can easily find one in your local store or order one online from a certified vendor.

Ensure that your pest control product is certified not to kill the good bugs in your garden too.

An Overview of Bad Bugs found in the garden

Here is a general overview of the bad bugs that can be found in your garden. This will help you identify and mitigate against the propagation of these pests in your garden or farm.

Stink Bugs are bad bugs that fortunately have many predators

Stink bugs are considered vicious garden pests that can wreak havoc to plants in your garden. Stink bugs are prey to many predators such as spiders, toads, praying mantis, parasitic wasps, and birds.

Ants may be usually a good insect, but can be a bad bug to plants

Ants can actually be good bugs in some cases, but for simplicity in this article, ants are bad bugs. Ants are considered bad bugs because even though they hunt for aphids, they can leave your plant covered in black spots. Also, they can eventually reduce the lifespan of your plant.

Aphids are rather famous bad bugs for plants

Aphids are quite popular for being nasty bugs for a garden. Aphids love to feed on the tips of the new growth of plants. Aphis attacks plants by sucking the soft green stems, buds, and leaves of plants like roses, citrus, hibiscus, and hydrangea. Aphids are good prey for ants to feed on.

You can easily get rid of aphids by spraying them with a mix of soap and water. Also, hosing down a plant with plain water can also help to control aphids.

Mealybugs and their colonies are seen as bad bugs for plants

Mealybugs usually appear as fluffs of white that then turn to cotton-looking masses on plants overnight. Mealybugs usually gather in large colonies on the stems and leaves of plants that they attack. Mealybugs usually segregate themselves by age. Therefore, mealybugs of different sizes will be seen in packs.

Mealybugs usually suck plant saps and therefore weaken the tissue, which then causes the plant to become spotted, discolored, stunted, and distorted.

When mealybugs congregate in large numbers, they can cause the premature drop of leaves and fruits of a plant. They are also known to attack houseplants and greenhouses usually.

How to control mealybugs infestation

Mealybugs can be controlled by isolating infected plants and wiping off mealybugs with a soft wet sponge, cloth, or soft material dipped in alcohol.

If the plants are outdoors, you can spray the plants with a mixture of water and insecticidal soap.

Squash Bugs thankfully are bad bugs that can be easily repelled in your garden

Squash bugs usually start as small shiny coppery orbs that then hatch into little gray nymphs that mature into squash bugs that destroy plants.

You can easily control Squash Bug by planning marigold around your garden to help repel squash bugs.

Cabbage Worms are rather nasty bad bugs that may be present in your garden

Cabbage worms are quite destructive in nature and are found on the undersides of leaves. Once they start eating, they never really stop eating. They are known for putting holes in kale, cabbage, radish, broccoli, turnip, and cauliflower leaves.

There are two major signs that cabbage worms have infested your plants: the haggard holes in your plants’ leaves and tiny black spots on the leaves on which they excrete.

Chicken and ducks are known to prey on these worms. However, if you have a large infestation, then this might not be an option for you.

The best method for you to try would be to spray citrus oil on the infected plants or sprinkle cornmeal around the plants. These two methods would cause the worms to bloat and eventually die.

Grasshoppers, or at least a select of them, are bad bugs to plants

It is estimated that out of the 600 species of grasshoppers found in the United States, 30 of those species cause serious damage to plants. Therefore, grasshoppers are considered garden pests.

Grasshoppers are chewing insects, and when they infect a farm or a garden in large numbers, they can deal serious damage to a farm or garden.

Crops that grasshoppers often feed on and signs of their damage

Some of the crops that grasshoppers feed on include the following:

corncotton
ricetomato leaves
lettucealfalfa
carrotssmall grains
soybeansgrass

Grasshoppers usually feed on the stems and leaves of plants; therefore, the sign of grasshopper damage includes holes in plant and ragged plant edges.

Since grasshoppers are quite mobile, they can be hard to eliminate from your garden, but here are a few tips to get you started.

Best ways to control the grasshopper population in your garden

We will be talking about ways to combat the growing population of grasshoppers in your garden by doing some extra gardening work and tasks, using household items to keep them at bay, and even calling on to predators of this insect.

Doing extra gardening work to eliminate grasshopper infestation

Female grasshoppers lay their eggs in the soil, leaving the eggs to overwinter in the soil before hatching in the spring.

Till your soil in mid-to-late summer to prevent the grasshoppers from laying any eggs, then till your soil in late fall to early spring to destroy any egg laid during the previous summer.

Another way to combat the infestation is by hitting 2 birds with one stone for your garden. Strive to remove the weeds around your garden. This act will effectively eliminate any alternative food source that grasshoppers might have.

Using household items to keep grasshoppers at bay

You can either cover up the plant itself with cheesecloth or crop cover, which is a direct way to keep these insects from eating your plant.

But, you can also look into making a garlic spray because this solution is sure to prevent grasshoppers from feeding on your plants. To prepare a garlic spray, mix two cups of garlic with ten cups of water, boil it, and cool overnight.

Mix the boiled solution of garlic and water with 3 parts water in a spray bottle. This solution would also repel other plant-eating insects.

Fostering Chickens and maybe even Predators of grasshoppers to keep them at bay

Introduce some of the natural predators of grasshoppers to help eliminate any existing population of grasshoppers in your garden. Some of those predators include birds like a swallow, praying mantis, and toads.

However, if you are also looking into getting into the poultry business, now is the perfect time to care for you, then chickens in your garden, and they will help eat your grasshoppers. However, it would be best to be careful not to plant crops that chickens can feed on.

How to protect your garden against Bad bugs, the natural way

We will be looking into natural ways to combat bad bug infestations in the following sections, spanning from growing select plants to combat specific invasive species and trying to attract bad bug predators into your garden for them to do your job while also getting their food happily.

Bad bug Repelling plants to aid with protecting your plants

There are several ways of protecting your plants from bad bugs found in your garden, and one of them is by growing plants that repel them.

Below is a list of some of the plants you can grow and the bugs that they repel.

Bad BugRepelling Plants
AphidChives, tobacco, nasturtiums
Wooly AphidClover, Chives
Carrot FlyParsley
Cabbage Moth/ ButterflyTomato, peppermint
BorerTansy, Lavender
GrasshopperHorehound, larkspur
Japanese beetleRue, Garlic, Larkspur
Harlequin bugRadish, Onion, Turnips
MosquitoLavender, Santolina, Fleabane, Balm of Gilead
Bean BeetleOnions, Potatoes, Marigolds
Codling MothCommon Oleander
Cucumber BeetleTansy, Radish
MothRosemary
Stink BugRadish, Jerusalem artichoke

If there is a lack of space or any other factors in your garden that won’t allow you to grow these plants, look into the animals and insects that may be thriving in your area, which also attack these pests.

Good hired assassins’ for bad bugs

Depending on your area, of course, there may be ways to attract the likes of bats and birds. These animals are well known for gobbling up bad bugs. More common good hired assassins that you can look into, though, would be centipedes, dragonflies, and frogs.

However, again, everything is best in moderation. Take care to attract these animals and insects moderately and not cause more problems for your garden.

Overview of Good Bugs found in the garden

With all this negativity on bad bugs and their characteristics, let us shift to brighter things like good bugs in the garden. These bugs are definitely the ones you should look into attracting into your garden to flourish and be healthier.

Ladybirds (ladybugs), except for specific ones are amazing good bugs

A list of the bugs that are good for your garden would be incomplete without the ladybug. Ladybugs are known for being very effective at keeping aphids under control.

However, make sure you watch out for ladybugs with over 26 and 28 spots, as these are aggressive plant-eaters.

Ladybugs are so beneficial to the control of aphids in gardens that they are grown and sold commercially to garden owners and greenhouses.

Lacewings are great good bugs to keep aphids at bay

Lacewings are also very beneficial to gardens for a lot of reasons. First, the adult lacewing feeds on pollen and honeydew at night, and therefore, aid in pollination. However, the larvae of lacewings feed on aphids, mealybugs, whitefly, mites, thrip eggs, and scale.

Lacewings are also considered an effective means of controlling aphids’ population in a garden sold commercially.

Bees are definite good bugs

Bees are generally considered beneficial to the garden because they help with pollination and never really bother any other insects on the farm or garden.

Regardless of the type of bee, you find in your garden, honey bees, mason bees, and bumblebees all help with pollinating flowers and trees.

Ground Beetles/ Bombardier Beetles are good bugs that help in eliminating other pests

Ground and Bombardier beetles are very beneficial to the garden’s ecology as they help eliminate many garden pests. Some of the prey of these beetles include larvae and adult caterpillars, cutworms, march flies, slugs, thrips, snails, aphids, ants, termites, grasshopper eggs.

Hoverflies are god bugs that attack pests

Hoverflies are one of the critical, good bugs to have in your garden because of how well they attack pests. Hoverflies usually feed on aphids, beetles, and caterpillars.

They actually lay their eggs in aphids, which means that their offspring will always have food to eat.

One essential feature of hoverflies is their ability to help pollinate plants since they also feed on nectar and pollen grains.

Several other good bugs can be found in your garden, and usually, the rule of thumb is that slow-moving insects are usually bad for your garden, while fast-moving ones are usually good.

While we give this rule of thumb, of course, do take the time to further research on the specific bug in your garden and actually check for yourself its category and such if you are unsure.

Other animals that also help keep bad bugs at bay

While we have been talking about the numerous bugs and insects in the garden that can keep bad bugs at bay, let us also go into the numerous animals to help in this process. Conveniently, these may be more common than specific bugs species, so looking into them is a definite must.

Good animals to have in your gardens are Lizards and Frogs

Lizards are quite beneficial to gardens because of how effective they are at eating a wide range of insect pests.

If, however, your garden is close to a pond, you will likely have frogs in your garden. Frogs are very efficient hired assassins for gardens. Some of their prey include moths, flies, grasshoppers, cockroaches.

Birds

Birds consume a large number of bugs and can help a lot with controlling destructive insects. Just make sure that your garden does not contain fruit trees that birds can prey on too.

Here are some birds and the insects they feed on:

Type of birdsWhat they feed on
SwallowsBeetles, grasshoppers, moths
Woodpeckersbeetles, weevils, borers, larvae
SparrowsCaterpillars, cutworms, beetles
BluebirdsCrickets, larvae, moths, grasshoppers
OrioleCaterpillars, beetles, grasshoppers, larvae

Again, taking this time to remind you that everything is best in moderation. Look into attracting these birds and take care not to have their whole flock into your area and cause more problems.

Using Good Bug Attracting plants to promote the growth of your plants

Just like you might grow some plants to keep some of the bad bugs away, several plants can be grown to help attract good bugs.

Looking into growing insect-friendly plants in your garden is really important because while it is a feast for your eyes, it is also a feast for the creatures that coexist in your garden (source).

Good BugAttracting Plants
WaspsDandelion, Anise, Celery
Hoverflies, WaspsMarigold, Chamomile, Hyssop
Ground beetlesClover
Wasps, housefliesIvy
Many good bugsStinging nettle
Lacewings, waspsSunflower
Strawberry leaf bugs, oriental fruit moth larvaeRagweed
Oriental Fruit moth larvaeStrawberry
Ladybirds, waspsYarrow
ladybugsTansy, Sweet fennel, Angelica, Cosmos, Dill, Goldenrod
Wide range of parasitesMustard
Ground and Bombardier beetlesAmaranth
HoverfliesPoinsettia flowers

Planting specific species, especially those that can bear fruits and crops, is a great way to get two positives out of a situation to attract good bugs. You get to learn about the plant and harvest its product while also ensuring that your garden stays healthy by attracting good bugs.

Conclusion on Good vs. Bad Garden bugs

It is also essential for you to understand that the goal is not to completely eradicate bed bugs from your garden or overpopulate it with good bugs. Life is all about balance, and balance is exactly what your garden needs to thrive. The good bugs sometimes need the bad bugs to survive.

Therefore, removing them completely might be detrimental to your garden’s ecology. Hopefully, this article has served its purpose and made you more knowledgeable about which bugs to attract and keep at bay.

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Tony O'Neill

I am Tony O'Neill, A full-time firefighter, and professional gardener. I have spent most of my life gardening. From the age of 7 until the present day at 46. My goal is to use my love and knowledge of gardening to support you and to simplify the gardening process so you are more productive

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