Natural insect control for your garden pests

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned Pink’s nursery in Aylmer, where I got some information about the fungal infection that is browning off all my crowded iris rhizomes.

While conversing with horticulturist Joanne Harris at Pink’s, she mentioned a website from which gardeners can order insects.

That’s right, insects.

Many gardeners are using the NIC method of protecting their perennials, annuals and vegetables from persistent insect predators by fighting them naturally, with “good” insects. In fact, longstanding readers of my column may recollect that about 5 years ago, Eric and I purchased bags of ladybugs (live) and preying mantis cocoons from Loblaws. (The bag of ladybugs was alarming as it heaved and moved, all on its own, in our grocery cart!)

We took Ms. Harris’ advice and for interest we ordered the catalogue from NIC (Natural Insect Control) via their website found at

For those of you who don’t have internet access, here’s what the catalogue is all about.

First, it is sorted into an easily-readable list of “Problems and Answers.” Here’s where you look up an alphabetical list of insect pests, from “Alfalfa Weevil, Ants and Aphids to White Grubs, Whiteflies and Wireworms.

On the opposite page is the list of corresponding pest answers which include such things as Ladybugs, purple martin houses, slug pots, white and yellow sticky cards and a host of other intriguing insect and other environmentally friendly solutions.

Throughout the 64-page catalogue there are useful tips and comments.

First of all, there’s the timely reminder: “Pest insects only attack weak plants. Proper management -- feeding and watering, particularly under stress (drought, heat, etc.) will be the biggest factor in having few insect problems.”

Owners Dave and Sandy Mitchell obviously are serious about fighting pests with good insect predators. They recommend what they call the “IPM”, or Integrated Pest Management practices. Here’s their four-step process “To bring together in unity, to control pests:

1. Beneficial insects and organisms

2. Management & cultural techniques.

3. The use of traps and lures for monitoring and trapping pests

4. The proper use of non or low toxicity substances.”

In other words, the couple claim the best approach is “Working with Nature.”

Many people call this approach “biological control” and their definition of this is “use of natural enemies, e.g. parasites, predators, companion planting, working together to control pest insects.”

Okay, so let’s look inside the catalogue and see what we think of it.

First off, I think they could dispense with some of the cutesy sayings such as “Tree Definition: A large woody plant once common worldwide.” However, the impact of such punchy call-out phrases does cause one to reflect...

But before trying to figure out what insect to purchase, gardeners must correctly identify what pest is damaging their plant.

Here’s where a handy item on page 14 comes to the fore. Called a mini microscope, this 30x magnification item surely isn’t for insect-challenged (read, squeamish) folks like me. Oh well, I have to learn how to overcome my dislike of squirming maggot-like critters someday and perhaps this is the time?

This $22.95 item is described as “Large 30 power, mm view field, rugged, lightweight with a fully adjustable centre focus wheel, predirected long-life bulb in a protective vinyl storage case. For the bugged-out gardener, perhaps you can give it to coin and stamp collectors...

Once you have identified the critter munching your garden, then you can consider ordering the appropriate predator.

Although I did not get the anticipated deluge of aphids this year on my trumpet honeysuckle vine, I learn from this catalogue that ladybugs are eager predators. I discover that 1,000 ladybugs cost $9.95 and that the ladybug larvae (a photo reveals what they look like) devours “hundreds of aphids” in its three to four-week life. A related species, the twelve-spotted lady beetle also eats aphids at the rate of 10-55 pests/day.

Several other parasites devour aphids, including lacewings, praying mantis, and aphidoletes aphieimyza, a tiny fly-like midge.

Other scourges of the garden include scale, whose predators include aphytis melinus, a tiny golden chalcid wasp that lays up to 25 eggs underneath female scales. A photograph of scales reveals each critter to be something that resembles a snail-shell.

Mealybug controls include a cryptolaemus montrouzieri, an Australian lady beetle which feeds on mealybugs, long-tailed mealybugs, aphids and soft-shelled scale. But note that some predator insects are expensive: these cost $85 for 100 larvae.

Now, once you have bought your parasites and they arrive in their cotton bags at your mailbox, how do you deal with them?

Every parasite mentioned has complete instructions describing such things as the temperature range the species requires, how it is shipped (e.g. at the pupa stage), how to release the insect and at what rate (for instance 250 per “hot spot” for 3 releases).

Other products may prove useful, such as the “Release points” described as being particularly useful for mite predators. This appears like a cone which is suspended from the petiole of a leaf, for example. Touted as being useful for “keeping your beneficial insects on your plants and off the floor” they are “reusable and available in green for camouflage and white for easy refilling.”

Want to find out more about NIC? Here’s how to contact them.

NIC Natural Insect Control, RR #2, Stevensville, Ontario, L0S 1S0. Tel: (905) 383-2904; Fax: (905) 382-4418; E-mail:

Now, can’t you all imagine how our Pontiac Post offices will enjoy processing and delivering your order?


Katharine Fletcher is a freelance writer based near Quyon. Contact her at