The Good and the Bad – Identifying Minibeasts in Your Garden

JoEditor's Pick, Home & Garden, Lifestyle

Peacock Butterfly on a buddleja a good minibeast to have

Minibeasts are common in your garden, and whilst often lovely to look at and think that you are giving everything a haven to live in, not all of them are beneficial. Some should be considered pests that you would be well advised to deal with. How do you tell the difference between the good and bad minibeasts though, and what should you take action against?

The fact is, your garden is home to many bugs and insects that are often more than welcome to stay. A healthy garden is usually home to many different species of insect and they usually won’t bother you as long as you don’t bother them. For example, spiders are often seen as being rather creepy with the way they hang around our plants and create their webs, but they’re actually natural predators to many different pests such as aphids. They’re able to keep away certain types of pests and, assuming you leave them alone, they won’t bother you at all.

Telling friend from foe in the garden can be tricky though. Here are a few tips to help you out.

Source: (CC0)

There are some species that you’ll just need to learn about

It’s actually not that easy to tell whether a minibeast is a good or bad addition to your outdoor space. It’s not like they wear a certain colour or look a certain way if they’re friendly. A good idea is to instead understand some of the functions of different bugs so you can tell if they’re beneficial to your garden or not. Some of this also depends on what you are growing.

For example, the Common Carder Bumblebee is one of the most common species of bumblebee in the country. Many bumblebees look similar, so you can often bunch them into the same category meaning they’re all friendly and beneficial to your garden. But what exactly do bumblebees do? As they go about their work, they pollinate plants and fruiting trees, meaning they’re essential for our garden’s ecosystem.

On the contrary, there are some species that are known for feeding on plants and destroying gardens. For instance, slugs and snails are known to devour young plants and cause havoc wherever they go. Thankfully, there are products designed to safely remove or deter these pests. These include organic products that are important to use if you want to maintain a fully organic garden. You can also find products such as barrier tape which can keep slugs and snails away from your plants in the first place. I use a copper ring, for example, at the base of my raspberry bush. Next year I’m going to try that with my sunflowers which were a favourite target this summer. I’m also going to look into some sort of netting that won’t cause problems for small mammals, for a raised bed to see if I can have a little more success with growing broccoli next year!

Caterpillars on broccoli

Use pest identification when you’re unsure about something

Visual inspections can go a long way when identifying what is beneficial and what is detrimental to your garden. If you see an insect on a leaf in your garden and it’s leaving a trail of destruction, then it’s probably bad for your garden since it’s destroying your plants. However, if an insect is just minding its own business and hanging out, then there’s a chance that it’s not doing anything bad and you can probably leave it alone.

But visual inspections don’t tell the full story. If you really want to learn more about a pest and whether you should or shouldn’t be culling their numbers, then a pest identification guide can be very helpful. You can use pictures to identify what the insect is, then do a brief bit of research about it to see whether or not you should be keeping it around. If you decide that there are too many of them and they’re causing trouble, then you can look at natural solutions to deal with them and ensure they stay away from your garden.

If you ever encounter a new species that you’ve never seen before, write it down in a small book that you keep just to identify the different insects in your garden. You can then refer back to this and use it as a guide to learn which bugs are good and which are bad. You can even pass this on to your children so they can help you identify minibeasts as well. This can be a fun hobby and helps your children learn more about nature. My boys were delighted to find a Devil’s Coach Horse Beetle in our garden as they had not seen one before.

If they go beyond the garden, then it’s probably time to step in

Some insect species can be particularly annoying because they won’t just stop at your garden. For instance, ants can often be found trying to invade the home itself because they detect food nearby. Even something small like spilling a sugary drink and forgetting to clean it can attract ants, hence why it’s so important to clean up whenever there is spillage or food debris in your home. Again, there can be a range of solutions. This year I found that carpenter ants had moved in under my writing hut, so I used a spray made from essential oils to deter them and encourage them to move elsewhere.

The good and the bad

I’m a big fan of creating a natural habitat for a range of minibeasts, as our wildlife garden and bug houses show. That said, I also believe in harmony, and sometimes adjustments need to be made to allow for this. I hope that the above is a good starting point for you in helping with some tips to finding a bug balance in your garden.

N.B. This is a collaborative post. To find out more about how I work with others, please take a look at my disclosure page.