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Gardens Are for Insects

Thu, Apr 7th, 2022, created by Dan Gilrein
It’s been exciting to see pollinator gardens and pathways catching on with growing consideration of the ecological contributions of communities of gardens and managed areas. The idea is progressing as the public image of insects is rehabilitated thanks to exponents like Dr. Doug Tallamy advising us "each plant in your landscape you should think of as a bird feeder.” I was pleasantly surprised to see one of this spring’s nursery catalogs promoting plants for attracting wasps, reminding us of the beneficial roles these insects play in the environment. For years I have suggested the idea of ‘caterpillar gardens’ to our Master Gardeners. Often the immature stages of butterflies and moths are as beautiful and interesting as the adults, which now have more reasons to be there. Some gardeners grow parsley expressly for black swallowtail caterpillars and butterfly weed or swamp milkweed for monarch caterpillars. Some spectacular sphinx caterpillars feed on evening primose and related plants. Giant leopard moth caterpillars include sunflower on the menu and a treat last year was to see hermit sphinx caterpillars on bee-balm. Painted lady caterpillars feed on hollyhock and American lady caterpillars are a regular here on pearly everlasting. The black-eyed Susan naturalized in my garden is an annual host for wavy-lined emerald caterpillars (other hosts include ageratum, aster, and yarrow) disguising themselves with bits of flower parts (their other name is ‘camouflage looper’). I sometimes see the bright green adult moths resting on plants during the day. There are many more examples of how insects add interest to gardens. If you like butterflies and moths (and birds), include caterpillars in your estate plans – if you plant it, they will come!

About the Author:

Dan Gilrein

Entomologist, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County

Dan Gilrein is the Extension Entomologist with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County at the Long Island Horticultural Research and Extension Center, Riverhead, NY since 1995 and previously served there as IPM Specialist with Cornell from 1987. In his current position he conducts applied research on control of arthropod pests in food crops and on ornamental plants, provides diagnostic services to the horticultural industries, and conducts educational programs and presentations for industry, government officials, civic groups and the public on pests and pest management.

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