If you let a bee be, the bee will let you be. – Anonymous
Most of us have grown up with some fear of insects instilled mostly by other humans, and not by actual experiences. We are also taught we must destroy any insect that does damage to the plants in our garden. I admit, I had many of these fears until I started gardening with native plants. Although a few of these fears are justified, such as folks who suffer from bee sting allergies, most insect fears are not.
Native plants in our home landscapes teach us that insects are an integral part of life on earth. Without insects, many native plants would not exist because native plants depend on insects for their pollination or seed dispersal. I have a neighbor who wondered why his bloodroot plant wasn’t spreading after he just finished telling me he sprayed the ants in his garden. He didn’t realize that ants are responsible for the dispersal of bloodroot seeds, and the seeds of many other plants (a process called myrmecochory).
In return, many insects would cease to exist without specific native plants providing food and/or shelter. You probably know that monarch butterfly caterpillars in Illinois depend on the native milkweed plants for food. According to the data presented in the must-read book by Doug Tallamy “Bringing Nature Home“, native oak trees feed over 517 species of caterpillars. So without native plants, many insects would cease to exist, other wildlife that eat these insects would cease to exist, and eventually, so would us humans. In the book, “Diversity of Life” Edward Wilson states, “So important are insects and other land-dwelling arthropods that if all were to disappear, humanity probably could not last more than a few months.”
Remember, native plants were put on this earth not only for our enjoyment, but for other living things. It’s simply not natural to have spotless, perfect plants in a garden. In most cases the insects will either move on without harming your plants, or other insects or birds will begin feeding and provide natural control.
Do you realize that if I didn’t catch bugs and eat them, bugs would increase and multiple and get so numerous that they’d destroy the earth, wipe out everything?”
“Really?” said Wilber. “I wouldn’t want that to happen.” from Charlotte’s Web, by E.B. White
As always, if you do have a insect pest totally decimating your plants and you don’t what to do, the first line of action is to identify the insect. Then investigate organic controls specifically targeted for that insect. As part of your investigation, ask yourself: Why were natural controls ineffective (& how can I attract some of the insect’s natural predators)? Do I have enough diversity or enough native plants? What are my surroundings like or what do my neighbors do to encourage/discourage natural predators? If I let the insects be, despite the damage, would my native plants plants still survive? Most likely they will – established native plants are pretty resilient.