One side effect of the surging interest in pollinators and organic edibles is a growing awareness that insects can be good. From gardening blogs to home and garden shows, consumers are learning about beneficial insects — and being urged to use them in their gardens and lawns.
As these newly enlightened customers find their way into independent garden centers, beneficial insects are high on their list for pest control. Providing this alternative to customers may be simpler than you realize — and bring added benefits to your business as well.
Understand beneficial basics
As familiarity with “beneficial bugs” has grown, so have the things that come under that umbrella. A more apt name is beneficial organisms, as the category includes insects, mites, nematodes and more.
Beneficials generally fall into two categories: predators and parasites. Some are generalists, controlling a broad number of pests, while others specialize. Predatory
Whatever their approach, beneficial organisms help reduce unwelcome insects to manageable, non-damaging levels.
Watch trends in consumer demand
Using beneficial insects for pest management isn’t a new idea, but interest is steadily growing. Justin Duddy, sales manager at California-based Tip Top Bio-Control, says the company has seen big changes since it began 30 years
Shelly Breitenbach, owner of Shelly’s Garden Country in Broomfield, Colo., has been offering
Jenni Lynne, assistant manager at Strong’s Nursery & Garden Center in Carrollton, Texas, says the IGC has offered beneficial insects for well over a decade. “About half of the people who come in for them haven’t used them before. They’ve seen it on the internet or heard about it and know what they want, but not necessarily how it works,” she says. Beneficial nematodes are especially in demand there, with sales up about three times over last year.
Offer beneficial insects at your IGC
Concerns about shipping or storage keep some IGCs from venturing into
Tip Top’s pre-fed ladybugs, for example, can be stored in a cooler for up to 30 days. An additive in their containers keeps them fed and hydrated — and also enables IGCs to offer them at the counter as impulse buys. Praying mantises, sold in egg cases, can also be displayed without refrigeration for a time. However, beneficial nematodes, which target soil-dwelling insects from grubs to fungus gnats, require constant refrigeration.
At Bath Garden Center & Nursery in Fort Collins, Colo., assistant nursery manager
Find the right vendor
It pays to keep some considerations in mind when finding a beneficial vendor. One is whether the vendor is an insectary — a producer of beneficial insects — or strictly a bug broker. Duddy notes that quality and freshness are essential in offering healthy, effective products to your customers. “The closer you get to the source and the less time the insects spend in packaging, the healthier and better they’re going to be,” he says.
Take time to find out if insects are shipping
Help your customers succeed
While consumers may be
Effective results depend on proper handling and release, and every type of beneficial insect is different. Some vendors provide technical bulletins that overview storage, targeted pests and details for
Customers must understand these are live creatures in search of food. There must be a food source — the target pests — available, or
Capitalize on bug interest
Informed adults constitute a large part of beneficial insect customers, but there’s no denying kid power. Children can drive beneficial insect sales, and open avenues to educate adults.
At Strong’s, Jenni Lynne finds the “kid connection” very important. “Parents love the idea of ladybug photo ops. They release ladybugs at home, take adorable pictures of their kids, and post them on Pinterest,” she says. “But it also gets parents talking about beneficial insects, so we can educate them.”
Customers at Shelly’s Garden Country find ladybugs merchandized at the register and with other
A beneficial insect seminar at Bath in spring drew good responses, including one young attendee dressed as a praying mantis. In addition, the IGC’s Bug Day event has turned into an annual favorite. This August, hundreds of parents and children came to the IGC to learn about bugs – the good and the bad – and take part in a massive ladybug release. Kids and adults made bug-inspired headbands, studied insect displays, heard expert speakers, and got covered with ladybugs. “Children are the key to educating people about this,” Johnson says.
As interest in beneficial insects continues to grow, add-on items appear on the market. Ladybug attractants, ladybug houses, bug books