15 Beneficial Predators to Attract to Your Garden

Have you noticed a bug in your garden and wondered if it’s a friend or foe? While some creatures damage our plants, others help us keep the pests under control. In this article, gardening expert and rose enthusiast Danielle Sherwood talks about 15 predators you want to see and encourage in your garden.

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Are your roses food for Japanese Beetles? What about aphids, spider mites, or sawfly larvae? It might surprise you to discover that your best partners in targeting these pests are actually other bugs! Beneficial predators are the earth’s natural pest control.

Entomologists estimate that only 1 to 3 percent of all insects are categorized as pests. This means 90% or more of the bugs in your garden have a beneficial role, whether they eat the pests, pollinate, aerate the soil, or serve as food for vertebrate predators like bats and birds. 

Some gardeners choose to spray their plants to manage pests. Others (me included) try to tolerate them for a bit until the predators arrive, attracting these natural hunters and giving them the incentive to hang around. 

If you’d like to help pollinators and create an easier-to-manage ecosystem in your garden, focus on attracting beneficial insects rather than getting rid of the pests. Soon, they’ll be doing the work for you! 

Ready to get to know some of the beneficial predators your garden needs? Let’s get started!  

Attracting Beneficial Predators 

These 16 predators are ready to work for you, restoring the balance of your garden’s ecosystem to manage pests naturally. So how do you get them to come to your space? While you can plant specific plants that host or attract each one, here are some essential tips to make your garden friendlier for all beneficial predators: 

Don’t Use Chemical Sprays

If you poison their prey, you poison (or starve) them. Tolerate a bit of imperfection while you wait for the good guys to find your garden and restore balance.

Companion plant with a focus on native species

A bed of nothing but roses is easier for pests to attack. Companion plants can repel and confuse pests while attracting beneficials to their nectar. Native plants have evolved along with the insects in your area and will do the best job of attracting desired predators.

Create a Habitat

Leave some areas with twigs, logs, and leaves where beneficial insects can live, nest, and pupate. Having some wildflowers near your garden also provides shelter.

Provide a Water Source

While ponds and bird baths are fantastic, a simple bowl of water with some rocks to land on will make your yard attractive to good bugs. Replace the water every other day to prevent mosquito eggs from hatching, or alternatively, have a water feature that keeps water circulating so it doesn’t remain still.

Predator Profiles

Get to know the top pest killers so you can welcome them to your gardening team.

Hoverflies

Close-up of a Hoverfly on a blooming blue cornflower flower. The hoverfly has a slender elongated body, with a characteristic narrow waist. The hoverfly has large compound eyes and a pair of transparent wings like other flies. Their belly is marked with yellow stripes that mimic the coloration of bees and wasps. The blue cornflower has bright blue petals arranged in a distinctive disc-shaped head.
They may look like bees, but hoverflies aren’t bees at all.

Hoverflies, also known as Syrphid flies, comprise a family of over 2,000 different species. Most mimic the appearance of bees and wasps, with bands of yellow, orange, and white on the abdomen. Unlike bees, these little guys have only 2 wings. While their bodies look like those of bees, their large eyes and head shape resemble flies.

You’re likely to see them hover in the air briefly as they visit different plants seeking nectar. Be on the lookout for their larvae, which often resemble striped or spotted maggots. 

Why you need them:

Hoverflies are important pollinators. Many species prey on aphids (especially in the larval stage, when they are every bit as effective as ladybugs), thrips, caterpillars, and whiteflies.

How to attract:

    • Avoid chemical sprays.
    • Companion plant roses with yarrow, coreopsis, alyssum, asters, chives, and echinacea.

    Braconid Wasps

    Close-up of a Braconid wasp on a white fluffy flower inflorescence, against a blurred green background. It is a medium sized insect with a thin body. Its body is cylindrical with a distinct waist-like constriction known as the petiole. The insect has a bright color of brown, black and metallic hue. They have membranous wings and long antennae.
    These harmless wasps are beneficial parasitic wasps that control garden pests.

    Braconid wasps are a huge family of parasitic wasps that prey on garden pests. Though they’re wasps, they pose no threat to humans. These garden friends don’t sting.  

    Braconid wasps are less than one-half inch in size and are usually brown or black. They work by laying their eggs inside the eggs or bodies of their hosts, which they feed on once hatched. If you’ve seen a caterpillar or aphid with little rice-like growths sticking out of it, you’ve probably witnessed braconid wasp larvae at work. It looks a bit creepy, but it’s incredibly effective! In fact, some professional greenhouses purchase them specifically for aphid control.

    While braconid wasps only have a 3-4 day adult lifespan on average, their lifecycle is fast to renew. Seeing lots of eggs on pests means that reinforcements are on the way! 

    Why you need them:

    Braconid wasps can lay hundreds of eggs per day through their short adult lifespan, making a large dent in the pest population. While the average is about 200 eggs per day, some species can lay up to 350! They favor soft-bodied hosts like tomato hornworms, aphids, cabbage loopers, and leaf miners.

    How to attract:

    Lacewings

    Close-up of a lacewing on a green leaf, on a green background. The lacewing has a slender body and long transparent wings with veins and an intricate pattern resembling lace. Their wings are light green in color. Lacewings have large bulging eyes and long antennae.
    Known for their delicate lace-like wings and small bodies, lacewings are popular for biological pest control.

    Lacewings are a popular biological control agent for nurseries, farms, and home gardens. They have delicate-looking lace-like wings and small (.5-.75 inches long) bodies. The most common lacewing species in many home gardens is Chrysoperla carnea, which has a bright green arched body and copper-colored eyes. 

    Their larvae are the true heroes, eating up to 1,000 aphids a day! They are usually brown, white, or a mottled combination of both. They have strong, noticeable pincers and bodies shaped like teensy alligators. 

    Why you need them:

    Lacewing larvae eat an enormous amount of aphids. They also prey on spider mites, thrips, scale insects, whiteflies, and mealybugs.

    How to attract:

    • Plant sunflowers, asters, and daisies.
    • Provide umbel-flowered plants like yarrow and dill.
    • Adult lacewings feed on nectar and love the aster family.

    Big-Eyed Bugs

    Close-up of Geocoris grylloides on a green leaf. Geocoris grylloides, commonly known as the big-eyed bug. These small insects have a flattened oval black body. They have large bulging purple eyes. Geocoris grylloides also have long thin antennae that protrude from the head.
    With wide heads, large eyes, and prominent antennae, big-eyed bugs are beneficial for pest control.

    Big-eyed bugs are true bugs with wide heads and large bulging eyes. They have prominent antennae and stay under .25 inches in length. Color varies by species, but most are brown, gray, black, or red. Adults have wings, while the nymphs resemble wingless adults. 

    Why you need them:

    Big-eyed bugs eat aphids, mites, whiteflies, thrips, flea beetles, and small caterpillars.

    How to attract:

    Tachinid Flies

    Close-up of a Tachinid fly on a blooming Tanacetum vulgare in a garden, against a blurred green background. Tachinid fly has an elongated cylindrical body, slightly bristly. The insect is brown-black. They have large compound eyes and a pair of membranous wings.
    These parasitic flies are efficient predators used for controlling invasive pests.

    Tachinid flies are another group of parasitic predators, comprising over 8,000 species. They are very effective hunters and are even used in forestry to control invasive pests. Like braconid wasps, tachinid flies will sometimes attach their eggs to larger prey so their newly hatched larvae have an immediate food source.

    Most resemble large (around ¾ inch) houseflies. They are often brown or black (some have stripes) and can be identified by the noticeable bristles sticking up from their abdomen. 

    Why you need them:

    Many species eat sawfly larvae that skeletonize rose foliage. They are generalists who like a variety of pests, including destructive species of caterpillars. Their larvae parasitize the dreaded Japanese Beetle and pesky squash bugs!

    How to attract:

    • Leave that aphid infestation. These flies love to suck out their nectar and will appear when aphids are in large numbers.
    • Plant umbel-shaped flowers like parsley, yarrow, and Queen Anne’s Lace.

    Dragonflies

    Close-up of a large dragonfly on a blooming peony in a sunny garden. The dragonfly has an elongated body with a slender and graceful physique, painted in blue and black. The dragonfly has large compound eyes and transparent, intricately veined wings that are held horizontally when at rest. The peony is large, spectacular, consists of many layers of ruffled double petals of bright pink color, which are grouped in the center of the flower and surrounded by large outer petals.
    With long bodies and beautiful lacy wings, dragonflies are well-known predators capable of eating large numbers of insects.

    Dragonflies are well-known predators, eating hundreds to thousands of insects in one summer. They have long, thin bodies, large eyes, sharp mandibles, and 2 pairs of beautiful lacy wings. They come in a variety of flashy colors and sometimes appear to sparkle in the sun. 

    This formidable predator can snap up prey in mid-air. They can hover, swoop, and fly backward as well as forward. 

    Why you need them:

    Dragonflies are apex predators. They eat massive amounts of midges and mosquitos (making tending your garden a more pleasant task). They’ll really prey on anything they can catch- including other dragonflies.

    How to attract:

    • These are primarily aquatic insects that need a water source to live.
    • Consider a small garden pond or water feature where they can lay eggs and nymphs can develop.
    • Surround the water with flowering plants to attract their food sources.

    Soldier Beetles

    Close-up of two Soldier Beetles on a boneset blossom in a garden, against a blurry background. Soldier beetles have a distinct and attractive appearance. Their elongated bodies are slender and soft, shaped like typical beetles. They have a pair of soft wing covers, called elytra, which are orange in color with two black spots. In addition, soldier beetles have long thin antennae and six long legs.
    These beneficial beetles have long bodies and leathery wing covers. They are predators and pollinators in the garden.

    Soldier beetles have long, straight bodies and large antennae. Their soft wing covers are leathery in texture, earning them the nickname “leatherwings.” They are usually brightly colored with dark splotches on their legs and wings. They can fly and have a distinct habit of fluttering, then gliding. 

    Soldier beetles are valuable predators, but they also help out in the garden by pollinating plants as they feed on nectar. Their larvae feed on many insects and insect eggs. The larvae look like dark-colored, elongated crawling bugs with segmented bodies and prominent mandibles. 

    Why you need them:

    The larvae feed on creatures at ground level, like grubs, slugs, and snails. Adults eat aphids and other soft-bodied insects.

    How to attract:

      • Plant marigolds, goldenrod, and fennel.
      • Hogweed is a particularly favored plant and a popular mating spot.

      Minute Pirate Bugs

      Close-up of a Minute pirate bug on a succulent plant. Minute pirate bugs are tiny insects, with an oval body and flattened appearance. There is a distinct triangular mark on the wings. These pirate bugs have short antennae and large bulging eyes. Their colors include colors such as black, brown, gray.
      Pirate bugs are inconspicuous beneficial predators of thrips, aphids, spider mites, and whiteflies.

      These itty bitty bugs are so small (1/8 inch) you’re unlikely to see them, but they are doing important work nonetheless! They have long, piercing beaks which they use to suck out the insides of their prey. You may spot their brown to black wings, with white triangular marks at the base. Most are oval-shaped with large eyes. 

      Pirate Bug nymphs are generally orange and pear-shaped. A note of caution: Pirate Bugs do sometimes bite, usually if they lack adequate plant and insect food sources in fall or early spring. Reduce your risk of bites by wearing long sleeves and dark colors. 

      Why you need them:

      They are voracious predators of thrips, aphids, spider mites, and whiteflies.

      How to attract:

      • They love strongly-scented blooms and leaves.
      • Try marigolds, cilantro, oregano, and sunflowers.
      • They enjoy living among edible plants like strawberries and corn.

      Robber Flies

      Close-up of a Robber fly on a thick branch, against a blurred green background. Robber flies are large and robust insects with a distinctive predatory appearance. They have a strong body, a triangular head with a protruding proboscis. They have large compound eyes and a set of long and bristly antennae. Their wings are transparent and veined. Robber flies come in a combination of colors, including shades of brown, gray, or black.
      These flies are powerful predators, resembling fuzzy bees. They catch prey in mid-air.

      Robber flies are powerful predators that earned their name from the habit of waiting on low branches or flowers and swooping up to catch prey in mid-air. They are most often found in arid, sunny areas. 

      Many resemble fuzzy bees with only one set of wings. They have lots of bristly hairs, a long proboscis, and slender, tapered abdomens. They make a loud buzz when in flight. Long legs help them tackle and grab prey as they fly. 

      Robber fly larvae live in soil or wood debris. They munch on grubs, insect eggs, and a variety of other larvae. 

      Why you need them:

      Their larvae feed on pest eggs, preventing them from invading your garden. Adults eat a range of flying insects, including mosquitos and beetles.

      How to attract:

        • They supplement their diets with flower nectar, so plant a variety of blooming plants.
        • They’re most attracted to open, sunny sites.

        Lady Beetles

        Close-up of a ladybug on a green leaf with jagged edges and a hairy texture. Lady beetles, also known as ladybugs or ladybirds, are small and rounded beetles with a distinctive and easily recognizable appearance. ladybug has a domed body shape. The elytra are bright red with black dots. It has six short legs and a small head with protruding compound eyes.
        Ladybugs are voracious eaters, consuming thousands of aphids and mealybugs.

        You know this one. The ladybugs we most commonly think of are red with black polka-dotted bodies. They’re so cute. And so…hungry. If you’ve seen lady beetles in action, you’ll question their use in children’s decor. 

        One ladybug can consume up to 5,000 aphids in its lifetime. They love chomping on mealybugs, insect eggs, and sweet-tasting fruits. I always smile when I see them. It’s so adorable how they eat up the aphids like that, don’t you think?

        Lady beetles can help get rid of aphids when present in your garden.

        There are many species of lady beetles in the world, with conservative estimates of up to 6,000 species of Coccinellidae. Not all are red; some can be orange, yellow, or even brown, depending on the region. They’re found on every continent except Antarctica! But they all find your aphids delicious.

        Why you need them:

        Lady beetles are fantastic aphid, scale insect, and mite control.

        How to attract:

          • Leave the aphids to lure them in.
          • Keep a few untidy areas that can be used as nesting/overwintering sites.
          • Plant a variety of flowering species to attract their prey.

          Ground Beetles

          Close-up of a Ground beetle on a green leaf. Ground beetle is characterized by a compact and elongated body. It has a shiny and hard black colored exoskeleton. Its elytra are ribbed and provide protection for their delicate wings underneath. The ground beetle has long antennae and slender legs that aid it in quick movements.
          These large, shiny, multicolored beetles prefer damp areas where they feed on slugs, snails, grubs, and aphids.

          Ground beetles are large, shiny black or brown beetles. They look multicolored in the sunlight and have ridged wing covers and thin legs. They prefer damp ground beneath debris or rocks and sometimes under tree bark. 

          Despite the fearsome look of their mandibles, they won’t bite you (though they may pinch). Instead, they use these to seize and eat slugs, snails, grubs, and aphids.

          Why you need them:

          They eat a variety of insect pests, as well as larger ones that can decimate baby plants, like slugs. They’ve also been known to eat weed seeds!

          How to attract:

          Provide them with small spots for shelter: little piles of wood, rocks in shady spots, and long grasses.

          Spiders

          Close-up of a European garden spider on a web near blooming white roses in a garden. The European garden spider, also known as the cross spider, is known for its intricate and striking appearance. It has a round, bulging abdomen, marked by a distinctive cruciform pattern. The legs are long and slender, decorated with stripes. The body color of the spider is brown-black-gray.
          Spiders, beloved garden allies, excel in pest control by capturing and devouring a variety of insects.

          Here’s another familiar garden character. The spider is a friend of anyone growing flowers. I love peeping into a rose bloom and spying a small spider, ready to defend it from any threats! 

          Though they give me the creepy crawlies when they surprise me indoors, I’ve learned to love these 8-legged web weavers (I will NOT think about the venom-injecting fangs). They are great at pest control. 

          Why you need them:

          Spiders are opportunists who will eat most treats that end up in their webs, including gnats, mosquitos, thrips, aphids, caterpillars, you name it.

          How to attract:

            • Don’t use pesticides, and don’t bother them.
            • Create nooks and crannies for habitat via larger plants, rocks, logs, etc., especially in shady areas.

            Assassin Bugs 

            Close-up of an Assassin Bug on an Azalea flower, against a blurred green background. Assassin Bug has a distinctive appearance with an elongated body and flattened shape. It has a sharp curved beak. Its coloration is a mix of orange and black. Assassin Bug have elongated, jointed legs and bulging eyes.
            As true assassins, these bugs have sharp beaks for injecting venom. They are skilled hunters that patrol gardens.

            Assassin bugs have a sharp and prominent curved rostrum, or beak, to stab and inject venom. They then liquefy their prey before feeding. These are true hunters, always patrolling the garden for their next meal. 

            These guys can be as big as 1.25 inches long (like the common North American Wheel Bug, named for the wheel-like design on its back). You’ll recognize them by their long, thin heads and round or oval bodies. 

            Assassin Bugs have protruding eyes and wings (though most don’t fly). Colors depend on the species. Their lengthy, jointed legs often have contrasting markings. Their eyes are sometimes bright red or orange.  

            Why you need them:

            Assassin Bugs eat a lot of pests you don’t want around, even those larger than themselves. They’ll eat snails, scale insects, spider mites, and aphids, to name a few.

            How to attract:

              • Plant a variety of different (primarily native) plants to attract varied prey.
              • Leave some messy spots where they can overwinter.

              Bats

              Close-up of two bats in the garden, on a tree. These are small flying mammals with elongated wings, consisting of a thin membrane of skin stretched between elongated fingers. Their bodies are covered in brown fur, and their faces are distinctively shaped with large, round ears.
              Bats, fuzzy vertebrate mammals, excel as pest-eaters.

              Ok, I snuck a couple of non-bugs in here. These fuzzy, flying vertebrates are highly effective pollinators and pest-eaters. They consume thousands of insects in a single hour. Experts estimate that they save the American agricultural industry billions of dollars every year.

              Mosquitos have been terrible in my yard this year. When I asked my friend if she had the same problem, she shrugged and said, “Get a bat house.” But they’re not only devourers of mosquitos; they also take out flies, crickets, beetles, grasshoppers, centipedes, caterpillars, cicadas, and even scorpions!

              One species of bat, the pallid bat (Antrozous pallidus), is so notable in pest control in California that it’s in the process of being named the state bat. This bat has provided so much pest control to California’s farmland that the state legislators felt it should be honored.

              In addition, some species of bat are incredible pollinators. Dragonfruit is almost exclusively pollinated by bats in the wild, although the bats that do this are not pest-hunters; some fruit bats feed exclusively on pollen, and these are the pollinators of the bat world. Many of these fruit bats are desert-dwelling and pollinate cacti like dragonfruit exclusively.

              Why you need them:

              Bats are active pollinators and efficient predators. Their guano makes rich, nutrient-filled fertilizer for your roses and other plants.

              How to attract:

                • Purchase or build a bat house. This is best placed high above the ground in a sheltered location, such as on the second story of a house.
                • Provide a water source.
                • Plant native plants rich in flower nectar.

                Birds

                Thrush fieldfare (Turdus pilaris) pulls out a worm for feeding in a garden, against a blurred green background. Thrush fieldfare has a distinct appearance with speckled plumage consisting of greyish-brown feathers on the upper body and a white belly. It has a black tail and dark wings with prominent white spots. The head is adorned with a slate blue color, a black band under the eyes, and a yellowish beak.
                Birds control pests and help soil health through consumption and droppings.

                By now, you know birds are like little velociraptors, right? I see them patrol the grass, eyes fixed on the ground, sharp beaks ready to spear a worm. 

                Birds are important contributors to pest management. They eat larger pests like nuisance rodents as well as a wide variety of mites, lizards, caterpillars, weevils, and moths. Larger species of birds have even been seen consuming newly hatched snakes! They’re known for helping to control the codling moth, a major threat to apple and pear orchards. 

                Why you need them:

                Birds are active consumers of nuisance garden pests. Their droppings contribute to soil health.

                How to attract:

                • Create safe potential nesting sites with hedgerows, large shrubs, trees, and birdhouses (as long as you clean them when the fledglings take off).
                • Put out a water station where they can bathe and drink.
                • Plant natives and let them go to seed to provide food. They love rosehips, too!

                Final Thoughts

                If you’ve been sticking to a rigid spray routine, consider giving yourself a break. Change your focus to attracting predators rather than eradicating the prey yourself, and you’ll spend less time managing your garden. This leaves more time for the good stuff, like admiring the roses! 

                Before you assume a bug (or bat or bird) is there to cause trouble, observe it a bit. There’s a good chance that it’s actually just scouting for a pest-flavored snack. Let it do its thing while you sit back and enjoy your garden.  

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