My friends, the bugs in the garden [Commentary]

Throw a party and they all come

July 27, 2014|Susan Reimer

I was prepping the garden for my daughter's engagement party when it hit me. (We really like the guy, thanks for asking.)

I was inviting these strangers into the garden, but I was about to kick all the residents out.

The bugs, I mean.

I was all set to open up a pair of industrial-size foggers containing insect repellent and blast to death everything that flew or crawled. And all for the comfort of my human guests.

But I couldn't do it. I couldn't pull the trigger. Let everybody scratch, I decided. I can't do this. If I can't exterminate the bad guys without killing off the good guys, everybody gets to stay for the party.

I picked the wrong summer to issue this blanket insect amnesty.

The cool, wet spring had the twin results of producing a bumper crop of bugs — and all the luxurious flowers and foliage they could eat. Right now, my gardens look like a salad bar that's been decimated by a busload of tourists.

Slugs have shredded my hostas. My coral bells have been chewed to bits. Absolutely everything has had a bite taken out of it. And the roses wait helplessly for this year's ravenous tide of Japanese beetles to find them. And I am doing nothing to help any of my plants.

When the mosquito services call offering to spray — and they keep calling — I tell them, no. The body count is too high. Spraying not only wipes out dinner for the bats, it is advertised to kill 32 other insect varieties and that probably includes the bugs that eat bugs: spiders, mantises and predatory wasps.

And spraying isn't good for the bees, either.

For me, this all started with the bees. I have been reading about colony collapse among bees for a couple of years now, and though the experts aren't convinced that pesticides are the only reason for the sudden disappearance of the pollinators — trucking them to hell-and-gone for big jobs can't be good for them — poisons are thought to be one of the reasons.

Just about everything we eat requires pollination — including, indirectly, our meat and dairy products. What do you think cows eat? Without the bees and the other pollinators, we'd starve.

Stanton Gill, who keeps track of Maryland's insects for the University of Maryland Extension, says that humans are selfish. July is harvest time for the insects and humans. "But we don't want to share with them."

And consider that insects are in the food chain of all birds — even the seed-eater chicks. Spraying puts those species in jeopardy, too. All for the sake of a perfect garden.

I understand that there are times when you have to intervene or insects will destroy a tree or shrub. And there is a tipping point for gardeners. A point when the garden just looks too chewed up to be enjoyed. But there are ways to target the beetle or the lacewing that is doing the damage without laying down a blanket of death.

Those methods can be tedious, however. How long can you stand at your roses and pick off Japanese beetles and plop then in soapy water? Are you willing to get up in the middle of the night with a flashlight to find what is feeding on your plants so you can target it?

Are you willing to apply and reapply the horticultural oil or the insecticidal soap again and again to keep the bugs you don't want at bay? Finally, are you willing to tear out your plants and replace them with natives that attract beneficial insects?

So I am here today to speak out in favor of bugs because they don't have many fans. Especially mosquitoes. Mosquitoes don't have a friend in the world. Neither do ticks or stink bugs.

Just try to think of them as somebody's dinner.

Susan Reimer's column appears on Mondays and Thursdays. She can be reached at and @SusanReimer on

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