Plants to attract beneficial creatures
by Frann Leach
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You can buy predators, but encouraging natural predators into your garden for free by providing them with sources of food and natural shelter is an important part of biological control. Attractant plants draw in predators such as ladybirds, which feast on aphids, starlings, which pick leatherjackets off the lawn and hedgehogs, which help control slugs.
  • Beneficial insects, such as hoverflies, lacewings and ichneumon flies, usually prefer single, flat, open flowers from which they can easily extract nectar and/or pollen.
  • Good attractant plants are single asters, Californian poppies, annual convolvulus, goldenrod, nasturtium, poached egg plant, buckwheat, phacelia, yarrow and many umbellifers, such as sea holly, fennel and dill.
  • Some simple cottage garden plants, for example cornflowers and hollyhocks, are also effective, but avoid highly bred, double varieties.
  • Those that flower very early or late in the season are particularly useful because they provide food for insects preparing for, or emerging from, hibernation.
  • Other plants, for instance pyracantha and cotoneaster, have berries or seeds which will attract potential pest-eating birds. Ground cover plants provide shelter for a range of natural predators, including ground beetles.
  • Ladybirds can be encouraged by making sure there are some dry nooks and crannies for them to hibernate in. You will find them in groups under loose bark or in old, hollow stems.
  • Lacewings are attracted by Compositae flowers, including single asters, pot marigolds and yarrow. It's also worth investing in 'lacewing hotels' for them to overwinter in, so that they are available early in the season.
  • Hoverflies are attracted by poached egg plant, annual convolvulus, pot marigold, buckwheat and fennel.
  • Ichneumon flies are attracted by single asters, goldenrod and fennel.
  • Centipedes (distinguished from millipedes by having only one pair of legs per segment) are attracted by large stones, logs or loose mulches to hide under.

To attract birds, you need to provide food sources and water, as well as a few bushes and trees for them to hide in when the sparrow hawk calls! Nailing up a couple of nesting boxes may also be helpful.

Hedgehogs like piles of leaves and similar debris to nest in. Take care you don't spear one with a fork when you are collecting compost from the heap - and if you stack up a bonfire and leave it overnight, you are quite likely to end up burning a hedgehog who has crept in for shelter by accident. Since hedgehogs are very beneficial to the garden - they eat slugs and snails in large quantities - it's worth taking special care to look out for them.

©2004 Frann Leach. All rights reserved.

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