Jessica Walliser, author of the excellent Plant Partners: Science-based Companion Planting Strategies for the Vegetable Garden (Storey Publishing, 2020) and several other books on gardens and bugs, recently published a second edition of her book, Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden: A Natural Approach to Pest Control (Cool Springs Press, 2022).
Walliser is one of the best writers around at explaining complex interactions among plants and insects and between the two groups. She is like every gardener—protective of the beautiful space she has created—but with a lot of scientific background and a deep understanding of how ecosystems work, especially the ones in our backyards.
In Attracting Beneficial Bugs, she explains the relationships between plants, plant-eating critters and the insects that eat plant-eating critters, controlling their populations and saving our gardens. These predator and prey relationships are at the heart of her approach to gardening, which is to plant things that will bring in beneficial bugs (which is the vast, vast majority of them) and let nature do its thing.
An example is the aphid infestation she experienced on a prized tulip poplar in her yard. The aphids were all over the tree and their honeydew (excrement) was causing sooty mold on the perennials below. Despite the temptation to address the infestation stat, Walliser held off and just observed for two weeks. Sure enough, within 10 days, ladybugs discovered one of their favorite treats and in short order ate up the aphids.
While standing back and letting nature work is part of Walliser’s approach, planting the plants that serve the needs of insects for food, shelter and larval hosts is essential. Walliser recommends a diverse planting, with lots of nectar and pollen plants.
In addition to explaining everything from how predatory insects discover their prey (plants emit a scent when under attack!!) to how insect mouth parts work, Walliser offers profiles of common beneficial insects in the garden and the best plants you can add to your garden to bring those bugs in. I especially liked that Walliser promotes the planting of insectary gardens. The addition of an insectary border has been a game-changer in my home garden.
The book is studded with interviews with entomologists on more complex bug topics and photos of insects and plants. In you are interested in pollinator gardening, this book would be a great place to start.