Good Bugs Don't Bug Me
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Horticulture Stories


Stories from the park's horticulture team

Good Bugs Don't Bug Me

By Stacie Martin

Gathering Place horticulturists are very proud of our Park’s sustainable practices! We love plants, insects, birds, people, and pets. We do our best to provide a safe, healthy environment. To accomplish our goals, we utilize two main techniques: Plant Health Care (PHC) and Integrated Pest Management (IPM). These techniques place an emphasis on providing proper care for the plants, trees, and ecosystems so they are less vulnerable to pest attacks. They encourage a variety of natural pest control methods and tolerating acceptable pest levels. We use these methods for weeds, insects, and diseases to keep our plants and ecosystems healthy!  

Healthy ecosystems involve dragonflies to eat mosquito larvae! 

The larvae, or juvenile stage, of this soldier beetle eats slugs, snails, and grasshopper eggs. It is naturally occurring at Gathering Place! 

A Healthy Garden is Essential 

Different species of plants have different care requirements. Gathering Place has over 400 species of plants, and we learn their requirements one plant at a time! When a plant does not have the desired vigor we expect, we become plant health detectives: 

  • Light: Is it being shaded out or is it getting too much sun?  

  • Water: Is it getting too much water or not enough?  

  • Soil & Nutrition: Is the soil compacted? Too sandy? Too nutritious? 

  • Scouting: Does it have signs of insects (chewing, skeletonizing) or fungus (slight halo, patchy discoloration)? 

We found flea beetles on primrose! They are a hassle but do not permanently damage the plant 

Our plant detective/arborist examines leaves for insects.

A Sustainable Plan of Action

Often, adjustments can be made for plant health: pruning, reducing water, improving drainage, or adding compost. If these or other adjustments are not feasible, we relocate the plants to a different part of the garden where they may be more successful. If we find an insect or disease, we make sure to get a proper identification (often with the assistance of OSU Extension’s experts and lab). After we identify the insect or disease on the plant, we develop a sustainable plan of action! For insects, we learn about their life cycles to see if they are hazardous, how fast they reproduce, and when they are most vulnerable to attack.

The flea beetle life cycle, shown here, tells us that a juvenile stage occurs underground, and there are multiple generations each year.

After we learned that flea beetles live underground, we looked into microscopic worms called nematodes. The nematodes not only feed on the flea beetles but also feed on fleas and cinch bugs! 

Good Bugs Don't Bug Me

Often, we use beneficial insects and natural enemies, including insects, bugs, birds, frogs, and opossums, to help control populations of pests such as aphids, mites, caterpillars, mealybugs, and more! Some beneficial insects naturally occur, like ladybugs and wasps, while other insects, like lacewings and nematodes, are released into areas of the Park as needed.  

In the photo above, you can see the yellow aphids, and their white skin sheds. Aphids grow very fast and deform plant leaves. The alligator-looking bugs are juvenile lady beetles that eat the aphids. We kept an eye on the plant, and in a few days, the lady beetles had eaten every last aphid! 

Another method we use for control is mechanical removal. This translates to hand-pulling weeds and picking off insects. We sanitize our pruners between plants so we do not spread diseases. When we need to make a spray application, we use organic soaps, oils, copper, and naturally occurring bacteria.

Manipulating Garden Weeds

Sometimes, it feels as if we have waged a war against certain invasive weeds! In this case, a good defense is a good offense, as weeds are opportunistic little pests.


We use mulch in the garden beds to prevent weed seeds from germinating. Mulch also helps keep plants healthy, as it feeds the soil and helps keep soil moisture even.

In turf grass, we cut the Bermuda grass low to promote horizontal growth and out-compete weed seeds that blow in. 

In our prairies, we re-seed bare areas constantly to ensure germination of certain species we want as opposed to species we do not want. If the weed is short and does not out-compete desirable plants, like dandelions, we do not worry about it.

Sometimes, native plants can become weeds as well. Horseweed shades out our prairie plants. The past few springs we have aggressively hand-pulled areas and reseeded with a prairie mix in order to out-compete against this opportunist species. 

A Final Word

Keeping track of our pests (insects, weeds, diseases) helps us scout and track issues from year to year.  

Continuing our education is one of our favorite activities, and Oklahoma State Extension offers some additional resources if you are interested in learning more!