Friday, December 16, 2011

Don't be bugged by the good guys - insects can be beneficial

By Lisa Roberts

I live in a typical Central Florida neighborhood, where St. Augustine lawns and alien plants are the norm. I'm happy to say that one of the exceptions to that rule is my landscape, which is increasingly segueing to native drought-tolerate groundcover. Sadly, I can't get rid of all my sod - my homeowner-association dictates each front yard must have 20 percent.

Big-eyed bug. Photo: Lyle J. Buss-UF-IFAS
One recent day, I rolled up to find two phone-company workers digging in the St. Augustine grass between the curb and sidewalk - my 20 percent. Curious, I walked out and asked them what they were doing. They explained they were trying to find a buried phone box. They had been poking around with a shovel for about 15 minutes.

After chatting a minute, one of them turned to me and said, "Lady, you have a lot of bugs in your yard. You need to spray it!" He picked off a big-eyed bug that had crawled up his shirt and started to pinch it between his fingers. "I've killed four of these already."

My yelp of protest stopped him. "Don't kill my bugs! Haven't you ever heard of beneficial insects?" He stared at me like I was nuts. Clearly, he'd never heard of the concept.

"Beneficial insects like this one prey on other bugs - like chinch bugs that damage St. Augustine lawns. Spraying isn't discriminatory - it kills pretty much everything, beneficial and not. By using sustainable gardening and lawn-care methods, I don't have to use pesticides. Instead, I'm supporting a nice little food web that takes care of things."

I doubt he was going to go home to cancel his lawn-spraying service, but maybe he'll think about what I said and want to learn more.

The Sarasota County extension office offers a good primer on Florida's beneficial insects. Here's to hoping you'll treat your bugs better, starting today. 

Lisa Roberts is the Florida Wildflower Foundation's executive director.

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