Looking for some help in the garden? Many of nature’s most useful critters lie literally at our feet, underappreciated and ignored despite their ability to eliminate insects, condition soils and pollinate plants.
Turtles, moths, moles, dragonflies, snakes, toads and spiders are among the many wild things that can help maintain a landscape. The payback is minimal — food, water, shelter, and easing off on harsh lawn and garden chemicals.
“I believe in teamwork, using all the creatures that live in your garden,” said Sharon Lovejoy, author of “Trowel and Error” (Workman Publishing, 2003). “Start from the ground up with night crawlers as part of your workforce.”
Add to earthworms already in your plant beds with commercially available red worms.
“Grow an assortment of native plants, which will draw a great many bird species,” Lovejoy said. “Add plant hosts as food for butterfly and moth larvae.” That list would include milkweed (monarch butterflies), borage (green lacewings), sunflowers (ladybugs) and yarrow (hoverflies). Insects in the larval stage are voracious predators.
“I would certainly place spiders near the top of underappreciated life in the garden,” said Whitney Cranshaw, an extension entomologist with Colorado State University.
Spiders are credited for as much as 80 percent of all predator control in the garden. Great garden helpers:
Toads. “Harmful insects make up 62 percent of a toad’s daily food supply,” said Lovejoy.
Dragonflies can capture over 400 mosquitoes a day.
Moles can eat their body weight in insects, slugs and grubs while aerating the soil.
Sphinx wasps can pollinate 200 flowers in minutes.
Snakes. “Most snakes, about 99 percent of those found in gardens, are harmless helpers, and eat rodents and insect pests,” Lovejoy said. Garter and gopher snakes are tops.
Box turtles feast on slugs, snails, insects, larvae and grubs. “They’re slow but sure,” Lovejoy said.
Bats. These nocturnal aerialists pollinate flowers, spread seeds and devour upwards of 600 mosquitoes an hour.
For a fact sheet: www.hgic.umd.edu/content/attract wildlife.cfm