Insects, Our Gardens Can Contain Multitudes

Sep 17, 2022

Remember those days when your parents would drive down the highway and the front window and front of the car would be covered with dead bugs? 

The so-called “windshield phenomenon” does not happen much anymore. When I check my car, I don't find any little bug bodies.  

Sadly, the world is suffering an insect loss, and it will lead to other problems. Insects are important because they pollinate plants and feed other creatures. In some parts of the world, plants have to be hand pollinated because there aren't enough pollinator insects. Pollinating fruit trees by hand is much more difficult than relying on bees flying from bloom to bloom.

Where have all the bugs gone? Climate change, monocropping, and pesticides all play a role. 

Not only do insects pollinate many plants that we depend on for food, but they also feed larger animals and birds that affect our food sources. They are also essential players breaking down our waste. Red wiggler worms will eat your garbage, as will ants, sow bugs, fruit flies, and other insects. Imagine living in a world where garbage did not go away.  

You can take steps to limit insect loss in your own garden. Put away the chemical pesticides; they hurt the good guys along with the bad guys. If you must use them, follow package directions carefully.

Grow plants that lure insects into your garden. Insects are attracted to blooming plants for their nectar. Other insects love blooming plants because they attract the insects they like to eat.  I used to try to remove all the oleander aphids from my milkweeds. Then I discovered that if I left the aphids, good bugs would eat them.

In some regions of the world, plants need insects to survive. One example is pitcher plants, which trap insects as a food source. 

Insects appreciate a garden with water. A pond will lure dragonfly nymphs as they need water before they emerge as dragonflies. Just filling a container plant's saucer helps.

Cut back on your lawn mowing. Longer grass gives insects a place to live. Bugs like a messy garden, and so do birds. You might also consider growing a meadow instead of a lawn. Our country adopted the lawn tradition from England, where it rains often. Alas, drought is common here. 

Replace chemical fertilizers with compost or aged chicken or steer manure. Worm compost is a great fertilizer; that's what I use almost exclusively. Sometimes I throw in a little chicken manure, especially in my compost piles.   

Plant native plants wherever you can. The local bugs have adapted to the local native plants over eons. Don't mess with Mother Nature's plan for our part of the world.

According to the UC Davis Bug Squad, insects contribute an estimated $57 million annually to the U.S. economy. Yet many insects are close to being added to the list of Endangered Species.

In 2019, four bumblebee species were added to the list because their numbers had dropped so low. Many of these insects nest in the ground. Be sure to keep an area free of compost so they can create their nests. Usually, they will build these nests in mole, gopher, or mice runs that these creatures have already dug in the ground. 

Become a Master Gardener Volunteer! UC Master Gardeners of Napa County is now accepting applications for the Class of 2023. Click on the ”Join Us” button at to read the informational brochure and register to attend a mandatory information session for applicants. Applications are due before 5 p.m. on September 30.

Library Talk:  UC Master Gardeners will host a talk on “Danger and Romance in Your Garden” via Zoom on Thursday, October 6, from 7 pm to 8 pm. Many favorite landscape plants are also poisonous. Learn about these dangerous beauties at this free talk. Register to receive the Zoom link.

 Food Growing Forum: Join UC Master Gardeners of Napa County for a free forum on “Cover Crops in Depth” on Sunday, October 9, from 3 pm to 4 pm, via Zoom. Register to receive the Zoom link:

Guided Tree Walk: UC Master Gardeners of Napa County will host a guided tree walk at Napa's Fuller Park on Tuesday, October 11, from 10 am to noon. Meet at the corner of Oak Street and Jefferson Street. Space is limited to 12 guests. You must pre-register and each guest must register separately.