Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Attracting Beneficial Insects With Beautiful Landscape

photo by Garden Coach
California Coffeeberry (Rhamnus californica) 
When ever I plan a landscape, it's almost always with natives to the area and for the purpose of helping out the native wildlife in the process. While I certainly want an appealing eye candy pleasing to the senses look, I also want to provide food sources, housing habitat and other foraging and cover components for which numerous critters can compliment and actually take care of your landscape or garden for you. Here's a picture of one from my old property in the Mountains above Anza , California. First this variety of Cal-Coffeeberry is listed as 'Mount San Bruno' or even another one which is a little bigger and known for producing a lot of beautiful berries is 'eve case'. This variety is known for being a low grower and remains small in form. The one in the picture below under a Jeffrey Pine (Pinus jeffreya) is approximately 24 years old. Not bad for a little shrub. It has a bigger brother high up on that same bank, though I'm not sure you'll notice it.

image: Mine
I chose this shrub and it's larger variety at the top for the obvious reasons. It's evergreen and from it's appearance at the top photo, you'll notice it has the characteristic berries which ripen unevenly throughout the season giving variety of colouring with gold, green, red and purple. Any shrub in the backcountry of Southern California helps out the ground loving birds like Quail, California Thrashers, California Towhee, Hermit Thrush and Even the common Scrub Jay. The Scrub Jays apparently love the berries. I didn't realize that at first, though I had seen them in the bush. It was one spring when everything was blooming that I notice under a couple of my Manzanitas that there were multiple Coffeeberry Seedlings which had germinated under the dander(or mulch layer) of those Manzanitas. I thought to myself, 'how kool', but before I could transplant any of them, the pathogen which causes damping off kept the understory of the Manzanita weed free and they all died at the root collar. No matter, it was an interesting and educational experience none the less. 

When planting your natives no matter where you are, take into consideration the "Earth's Internet" (mycorrhizal networked associations)  which will allow your plants to benefit from the mycorrhizae grid network. I have never planted these past two decades a native or any other ornamental plant without first providing an inoculent of endo-mycorrhizae inoculent into the mix. I also never amend the soil. It's not necessary. Simply apply a generous layer of compost or mulch around the plant's immediate perimeter. This prevents water loss and weed control for the young plant. also, when you visit the Nursery, resist the temptation to purchase a 5 gallon over a one gallon plant just because you want instant landscape. I understand the impatience, I fight it all the time as well. But a small one gallon will eventually out perform in my experience.

One pleasant surprise I wasn't counting on at all, were all of the insects for which those not so showy flowers(as you can see from the top pic) were attracting, specifically in the Gnat, fly, bee, wasp, mosquito, beetle and some butterfly families to what are not at all again a showy flower. What I did notice was a sticky substance around the leaves of the flower cluster which for the most part are a dull inconspicuous green. Nothing at all fancy or attractive about them. Well not to a human anyway.  There must have been some type of aroma or fragrance given off by the plant that drove those critters nuts because they were climbing and fumbling all over themselves to get a turn at the feeding trough. I couldn't smell it though. What was unusual was to see the phenomenal numbers and the variety of insects that didn't seem to normally hang out together, let alone climb all over each other in such masses. One bright spot I noticed were the numerous tiny parasitic wasps, not the usual giant mud wasps, paper wasps or ground dwelling Yellow Jackets we all flee from (they were there also of course) , but it was those tiny fellows, the ones that lay eggs on the backs of grubs, worms or caterpillars and keep their numbers from decimating your vegetable gardens. Here's an example of the type I'm referring to.

Okay, you get the picture now, but this next photo below is what they can do for your garden. 

As everyone knows, Tomato Hornworms can be devastating to any garden if left unchecked. On that note I have seen where commercial agricultural ventures like Vineyards are now planting rows of Lavender Plants to allow for pollination and food sources for these beneficial insects during the summer months and it's working. Several Vineyards in  Northern California have reported not having to use pesticides anymore.

The bottom line is, when planning for garden or landscape, remember such plants as California Coffeeberry which is a native. There are surely other ecosystems and plants that work equally well in other states or even countries of the world. Where ever you live, be observant of the nature around you when you're out walking and ask questions of local experts or nurserymen. Ask friends or nieghbours who you know for sure are adept and prolific at greenthumb gardening. I'm sure with the info available these days, they most assuredly are up to scratch on the latest organic methods. BTW, for your information, that photo above right is a commercial Vineyard whose owners planted Lavender which flower all summer long and attract beneficial parasitic wasps which allows them to not have to spray pesticides. Even some commercial growers are getting in on the Biomimicy game and saving not only money, but building a better and healthier product in the process.


  1. A beautiful landscape can attract beneficial insects. A garden filled with blooming flowers and growing plants can provide a natural habitat for lively insects and can be a good source of food for them. These beneficial insects like butterflies, bees, etc, don’t just wander in your garden, but they also take care of your garden and add more life to it. A bee can fly in your garden and aid in pollination, producing more blooming flowers, and a more colorful environment.

    1. All great points Shona. Wish more folks who use pesticides realised what you just said.

  2. My cousin uses some kind of little wasp to control flies around her horses. She orders them online every year. I remember the tomato grandfather used to have an old oil drum full of oil and whenever he found one...PLOP! it went into the oil drum! (hehehehehe!) I need to get some lavender out front. The one I had died...sigh...


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