The Living World of Conifers
In 2005 part of this article was published in the February edition of The Gardener under my column The Good the Bad and the Ugly. This 2006 winter I have repeated the whole exercise to proof once more that the cypress aphid has many natural enemies like any other insect. This year another 22 conifer varieties donated by Rosendal farms were positioned in April close to the existing cypress aphid infested Golden rockets which were planted six years ago for the main purpose but to study the cypress aphid and other insect life sharing the wonderful sheltered growth. These Golden rockets is still as beautiful as ever being infested during the cooler months from April to July/ early August and then cleaned out during the month of August as their natural enemy populations increased. The final results or rather conclusions of this test where many varieties are included will be published sometime next year.
(Pic: Johan Gerber) Cypress aphid infestation on conifer stem as during the month of July
For many years now too much focus has been placed on the so-called "cypress aphid" problem, neglecting the wonderful world of insects harbored by them. Many insects are very important for bringing balance back into your own garden ecosystem. I find it necessary to say that with all the irresponsible recommendations by various chemical companies of broad spectrum insecticides to be used as full cover sprays, we have created serious imbalances. All the pictures shown in this article is the living proof of amazing and important insects that co-exist with or without the presence of cypress aphids in many varieties. Once you have read the positive aspects of each and every insect, you might just be able to see the huge advantages of having conifers in your garden, with or without cypress aphids! Remember that every single beneficial parasite or predator that finds shelter and comfort in your conifers will be to your whole gardens benefit in controlling various pests on other plants. Then again, some might not seem beneficial to you now, but in the long run all of them has a purpose in your garden. Next time you try and spray a 10 to 15 meter conifer, just leave it, those giants are breeding sites for many insects which is also an important food source of many bird species and other predators.
Conifers might not be indigenous, but they can be seen as very important companions to other plants in the garden.
To follow a list of most insects that can be found in your conifers and how they can benefit your garden:
Praying mantids: Many species exist that prey on insects like the cypress and other aphid species, flies and many more, a predator well respected within insect communities.
(Pic: Johan Gerber) Praying mantid species (bark mantid) found in conifer
Ladybirds: Like praying mantids are there many beneficial "meat" eaters. Favorite meals include aphids, scale, red spider mite and mealybug.
(Pic: Johan Gerber) Adult lunate ladybird hunting for prey
Bee flies: Adults feed on nectar, but their larvae are parasites of grasshoppers, moths, wasps and bees. Therefore the presence of many fly species and wasps nesting in your conifers attract them and with increased populations they can assist in controlling host pests on neighboring plants.
(Pic: Johan Gerber) Adult bee fly in flight near conifer
Hover flies: Adults feed on nectar. Their larvae are scavengers, a few might be found in ant nests, while others are true predators of aphids on branches.
(Pic: Johan Gerber) Adult hover fly species hovering near conifer
Blow flies: Larvae play a role in decomposing organic matter and may also live as endoparasites in animal carcasses or as ectoparasites feeding on the blood or tissue of living mammals. Two species, one with metallic-blue body and the other with a metallic-green body are extremely sufficient as scavengers of animal carcasses. The adults are not parasitic.
(Pic: Johan Gerber) Adult blow fly resting on conifer
Flesh flies: Most flesh flies breed in dung where the larvae play an important role in decomposition. If no dung in the area they will seek meat if given the opportunity.
(Pic: Johan Gerber) Adult flesh fly resting on conifer
Honeybees: No introduction needed, known for their valuable and important role as pollinators.
(Pic: Johan Gerber) Honey bee visiting conifer
Assassin bugs: Many species of which some prey on millipedes, other on aphids, caterpillar larvae and with the absence of easy prey, even ladybirds. A well respected predator within the insect food chain.
(Pic: Johan Gerber) Flower assassin (preys on aphids, caterpillar larvae etc.) inside conifer
Potter wasps: Adults are predators of mainly leaf-eating caterpillar larvae which serve as food source for their larvae in the nests, when hatched.
(Pic: Johan Gerber) Potter wasp species inside conifer
Jumping spiders: They are among the fastest creatures in the arthropod world. Their speed and keen eyesight allow them to pounce on flies, crickets, and even other spiders with amazing accuracy.
(Pic: Johan Gerber) Jumping spider waiting patiently for prey on conifer
In months to come we will be looking closer to these wonderful creatures that can be found inside or near your conifers and other predators and parasites which play a very important role in Nature.
Snail and Slug Control in Harmony with Nature / The Living World Within Roses / Inaugural IPM-endorsed training courses will commence this month. / Garden Plants Perfect for Attracting Beneficial Insect Parasites and Predators / The Living World of Conifers / Winter Garden Care: To Spray or Not to Spray? / Spiders and Pesticides / Cold Blooded Wildlife: The Gift of Nature / Predatory Ladybirds: Nature's Solution to Aphid Control
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