Beneficial bugs

Master Gardener Laura Heldreth teaches others how insects can help create a healthy, balanced garden

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To learn more

Gardening programs at the Camas Public Library

Location: 625 N.E. Fourth Ave.

Cost: Free, and no preregistration is required

"Beneficial Insects," 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 13

"Seed Swap," 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., Saturday, April 23.

"Gardening with Native Plants," 6:30 to 7:30 p.m., Monday, May 2.

Master Gardener Answer Clinic

Heritage Farm/WSU Extension campus

1919 N.E. 78th St. Vancouver

360-397-6060 or

On-site hours: Tuesday and Wednesday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Thursday and Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.

When most people think of insects, they likely envision something harmful that needs to be eradicated, especially when gardening.

But 99 percent of all insects in gardens are actually beneficial, according to Master Gardener Laura Heldreth.

“They pollinate, eat the pests, decompose garden waste and more,” she said.

Heldreth became a master gardener several years ago through WSU Clark County Extension’s 78th Street Heritage Farm campus. She completed 50 hours of coursework and volunteers at the farm at least 30 hours per year to keep her accreditation.

“We are the librarians of the garden world,” she said. “We don’t have to know everything, but we are trained to research the things we don’t know.”

Four years ago, she stopped using pesticides in her garden and began to research natural pest control.

“I discovered that if you stop killing things, it balanced out,” Heldreth said. “It’s been quite a journey to go from using chemicals to organic.”

She will be hosting a workshop on “beneficials,” as they are known, at the Camas Public Library on Wednesday, April 13.

The free class will include a discussion about the area’s most common beneficial bugs and how to attract and support them in a garden. It will also include some of Heldreth’s original photography.

“I like to take my macro lens and walk out into the garden and capture the moment as it happens,” she said.

In addition to the class in Camas, Heldreth has also taught about beneficial insects through Clark College and volunteers her time at the Hazel Dell Elementary School garden.

“I enjoy all aspects of gardening,” she said. “I remember planting seeds in my grandpa’s garden when I was 2. I want to share my passion with both children and adults.”

Attracting beneficial insects can be accomplished by creating a welcoming habitat, such as blooming flowers, water in a shallow dish with stones, mulch, setting stones and fallen leaves for shelter, and refraining from use of pesticides. Letting herbs bloom is another way to bring these bugs to the garden.

“If pesticides must be used, never spray pesticide on a plant in bloom,” Heldreth said.

Overuse of the neonicotinoid pesticides in garden products is believed to be linked to honey bee die-offs in the United States. Neonicotinoids may make honey bees more susceptible to parasites and pathogens.

“Pesticide overuse is causing our pollinators to disappear, “Heldreth said. “I hope this class will help people make the connection that insects are good. I have to share that.”

Additionally, pesticides can kill all insects in the area, good and bad, including food for future generations of beneficials. Since they have a smaller population than pests, they have a harder time bouncing back than the pests, allowing those bugs to come back faster and stronger, according to the Portland Nursery’s website regarding best practices while gardening.

When she is not volunteering or teaching, Heldreth can be found in her 100-by-80 foot garden at her east Vancouver home, tending to her plants and flowers.

“I spend every moment I can gardening,” she said. “I am out here year round.”

There are four categories of beneficial insects, known as pollinators, predators, parasites and poopers.

Pollinators include bees, bumble bees, hoverflies and butterflies. Predators include the praying mantis, ladybugs, spiders and ground beetles.

Parasites include parasitic wasps and poopers are pillbugs, also known as potato bugs.

Pests, which these other bugs help eradicate, are aphids, leaf miners and stink bugs.

Heldreth hopes to have a large turnout for her class, so that other local gardeners can learn how to best utilize beneficial bugs.

“I grew up thinking insects were the enemy,” Heldreth said. “I like to help people make the connection that we can balance a garden.”