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Good Gardening: Fast Bugs

A dragonfly
Karen Richards
In general, the faster moving bugs - praying mantis, lady beetles, spiders and dragonflies are good for your garden, and should not be harmed.

Hi all, Lane County Extension Service master Gardener John Fischer here with KLCC's Good Gardening.

I know how annoying it can be to find your spring lettuce and broccoli munched full of holes when you head out to harvest. But don't get mad at all the insects in your garden - most of the ones you see regularly are on your side, and looking to make the plant eating bugs into a meal for themselves.

If a bug moves fast, it's probably not trying to catch a plant, because the plants don't move at all. Plant eaters generally rely on camouflage, and hiding, not speed. Aphids, cabbage worms, leaf miners and the like find a nice place to eat, and settle in for a while.

There are of course, a few quick pests. The white cabbage butterfly moves so erratically that I've only managed to swat one down to the ground in all my years of growing vegetables. And flea beetles can swarm some plants - like arugula.

BT will stop cabbage worms organically, and flea beetles can be slowed down - never eliminated - with a hand-held vacuum and a good layer of mulch.

A praying mantis feasts on a bee.
Karen Richards

But in general, the movers - praying mantis, lady beetles, spiders and dragonflies are good for your garden, and should not be harmed. Honey bees, bumble bees, and other pollinators are essential, so leave them alone, and they'll leave you alone. And even the scary critters, wasps and yellow jackets never eat plants, and prey on caterpillars, aphids, and other pests.

The paper wasps will rarely bother people - thank goodness - but yellowjackets can be a summer menace if they nest near your home, despite their helpful activities around the yard. Trapping them will reduce their numbers, and queen trapping in early spring can be effective although you'll get more queens next spring than now.

So, if you see a dragonfly, or a spider darting about the garden thank them for their service, and don't hurt them or you'll really be hurting yourself.

John Fischer is a Master Gardener and Master Recycler and the host of KLCC's Good Gardening and Living Less Unsustainably.