Insects in the Garden


Ichneumon Wasp (Ichneumonidae spp.)

1. Most insects we encounter on a daily basis are not pests. They are harmless or beneficial.

A pest is generally defined as any organism that causes annoyance or injury to human beings or human possessions or interests.   The injury may be physical (bites and stings), medical (causing illness or disease), or economic (monetary loss to goods or property).

 “Out of the 800,000 – 1,000,000 species of insects that have been described so far, not more than 1,000 (about 1/10 of 1%) can be regarded as serious pests, and less than 10,000 (about 1%) are even occasional or sporadic pests. “ – Source: NCSU Extension

2. We want insect populations in the garden! Diverse, healthy habitats promote beneficial insects that minimize pest insects.

The best pest management approach starts with cultural practices (i.e. managing the growing environment through gardening practices including crop rotations, time of planting and harvesting). Non-chemical solutions are more likely to resolve the problem not just the symptom.

View the presence of pest insects or diseases as a symptom of a larger deficiency in your garden such as the need for a habitat for predator insects. A quick fix from the garden center shelf will not do. Look within the larger system for a more long-term solution.

 Common Beneficial Insects (webpage)

Attracting Beneficial Insects  (webpage)

Companion Planting (webpage)

Biological Control: A Guide to Natural Enemies in North America This Cornell University website provides photographs, descriptions of the life cycles and habits of 100 biological control agents (natural enemies) of insect, disease, and weed pests.

The Ohio State University provides descriptions of beneficial insects important in vegetable production as well as management practices that help attract and conserve beneficial insects (video ~25 minutes).

3. Getting to know insect pests as well as the beneficial insects that exist in the landscape helps you make better management decisions.

Green Lacewing (Chrysoperla sp.: Chrysopidae)

Unfortunately fear of insects and arthropods as nuisances and dangers is widespread. Engaging in routine observations of insects in our lawns, gardens and landscapes using insect sweeps and scouting  will help us better understand the important positive role of insects in a healthy ecosystem.

There are thousands of possible insects to identify. Start by familiarizing yourself with both common beneficial and pest species as well as learning insect features that are important for identification.

Fact sheetBasic Entomology for Identification (pdf)

Take a picture or collect insects in your lawn, garden or landscape. Examine your live specimens and try to match what you observe with images and descriptions found in written or web resources. Some favorite resources: 

Common Spiders of New York (pdf)

No luck finding a match? If you really must know, consider taking the insect sample to your local Cooperative Extension office (fees vary) or submit a sample to the Cornell Insect Diagnostic Lab ($25 fee per sample).

Follow these tips for submitting samples:

  • Put specimen(s) inside a small crush-proof container, wrapped in tissue paper.
  • Collect and send 1 or more whole individuals. Crushed specimens can sometimes be identified, but often only to insect family, not the species. If the insects are abundant, send 5 to 10 of the same kind of insect, if possible.
  • If insects are alive, please put in a container and place in the freezer overnight to kill them before shipping or dropping at an office.

Video presentation from Cornell Insect Diagnostic Lab Diagnostician Jason J. Dombroskie

Learn the habits and characteristics of insects

Once you have identified an insect, learn more about it from the  Cornell Insect Diagnostic Lab factsheets or Habitat of Natural Enemies of Garden & Agriculture which provides profiles of beneficial predators and parasitoids.

Consider if management actions are needed

“Out of the 800,000 – 1,000,000 species of insects that have been described so far, not more than 1,000 (about 1/10 of 1%) can be regarded as serious pests, and less than 10,000 (about 1%) are even occasional or sporadic pests. “ – Source: NCSU Extension

Most of the time cases, no further action is needed. If you have found a genuine pest, consult this guide for more information about management options: Pest Management Around the Home or others

Other Cornell Resources

New York State IPM Program – What’s Bugging you (website)

Wild Pollinators of Eastern Apple Orchards (PDF booklet)

Cornell Experts Recommend these Additional Resources

Xerces Society Conservation BioControl Resources

This Old House: “Meet the Good Bugs”

UC IPM Online: Garden & Landscape Biological Control

UC IPM: Pests of Home Landscape

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