When bad insects are good

Those of you who grow plants either outdoors in your gardens or indoors as houseplants probably have had experience at one time or another with some sort of insect pest infestation: aphids, whiteflies, fungus gnats, thrips, scale, spider mites, bamboo mites (ack!), mealybugs -- there is a long list of "bad" insects that plague gardeners. Although they like different conditions, and often specific types of plants, many of these pests are tiny sap-sucking bugs that can cover a large percentage of a plant.


These aphids are an example -- when just a few of these small critters are attacking one of your plants they're hard to notice. They multiply quickly though, and seemingly overnight your plant is covered in an army of invaders intent on sucking it dry.

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In this case, I don't care. In fact, I welcome the aphid hordes! If there were some special vitamin juice I could spray on these guys to help them thrive and reproduce even more quickly, I would.

[Note: I once contacted the Missouri Department of Conservation asking them how I could attract snakes to my garden. The respondent noted that in over 10 years in the department he had received dozens or hundreds of inquiries from people asking on how to keep snakes out of their yards, but mine was the first request for information on how to attract them! This is probably similar.]


I'm cheering for these aphids today for one reason only: they're attacking a field bindweed plant. This is a particularly robust weedy vine that is pretty difficult to eradicate from an area once it's established. The roots are deep and even though you think you have pulled them all out, more shoots will emerge in a few weeks, and before you know it you have a 6' vine tangled in your bamboo (or whatever other prized plant has been entwined).

So go aphids, go!

I know it's just wishful dreaming on my part, but I often fantasize about getting Nature to help out with some of the work around here. Besides having these aphids control the bindweed for me, would it really be that hard to train or genetically engineer a rabbit that only eats wild violets? I could use a few of those in my yard.

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