Pests can ruin a beginner gardener’s harvest, but there are a variety of natural methods for controlling them. These methods range from plant collars to soap sprays.
Observing the plants daily and removing any insect damage can help prevent large infestations. Using gloves, carefully inspect the undersides of leaves for pest egg masses.
Many garden pests can be controlled using natural means. Wash off infestations of soft-bodied bugs like aphids and leafhoppers with a hose spray. Capture nocturnal pests like slugs with homemade traps.
Remove weeds and other debris from garden beds to minimize their hiding places. Rotating crops each year reduces re-infestation by insects that overwinter in the garden. Be familiar with the warning signs of key pests, such as ragged holes in leaves or fruit.
Responsible gardeners limit the use of pesticides, which can wipe out beneficial insects and pollinators along with damaging pests. They also follow best management practices to avoid allowing a problem to get out of hand.
For example, they plant food-producing plants alongside pest-repelling ones to draw in beneficial insects like ladybug larvae and lacewings, which eat pests. Other techniques include using floating row covers to keep some insects away from vegetables, dusting with diatomaceous earth after watering to dehydrate crawling pests and spraying neem oil.
Incorporate companion plants into a garden to reduce pest problems. Planting friends and foes together can deter pests, provide natural trellises and support for vegetables, offer shade, attract beneficial insects and suppress weeds.
Many garden pests overwinter in weeds and debris near or under vegetable planting beds. Remove weeds regularly and keep the area around garden beds free of debris. This will discourage critters that may be seeking food and shelter in the garden.
Trap crops, or sacrificial plants, lure pests away from the vegetable garden. They are often planted just before your food crop — for example, chervil attracts slugs; marigolds do the same for nematodes; and nasturtiums lure cucumber beetles from squash.
Planting a trap crop and monitoring it on a regular basis helps you get to know which bugs are harmful to your plants. It also draws in beneficial predator insects.
A garden that is left a little untidy attracts beneficial insects that prey on pests. Examples include lacewings, dragonflies, preying mantids and braconid wasps (a friend to tomato growers who parasitize the hornworm).
Plants that provide early blooms, small flowers and herbs like sweet alyssum, dill, fennel and garlic chives help draw these predatory and pollinating insects. Avoid using nonselective pesticides, since they also kill the good insects.
Many garden pests can be managed without the use of chemical treatments. Preventative measures include smartly choosing plant varieties that are resistant to common garden pests, implementing crop rotation and companion planting, using netting and mulch, and attracting natural predators.
Adding compost, such as fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, sawdust, eggshells, and more, helps build healthy soil. Homemade soap sprays, such as one made from 2.5 tablespoons of kitchen soap per gallon of water, can dislodge aphids.
Crop rotation is a system of planting different vegetables in different parts of the garden each year. This practice reduces pest problems and improves soil fertility by interrupting disease and insect life cycles.
Planting the same vegetable family in the same spot year after year will deplete nutrients from the soil. Changing the locations of different families reduces this depletion, reducing the need for fertilizers.
A garden that is healthy and well balanced attracts insects that predate on pests. A few simple, natural methods can control pest outbreaks without resorting to chemical treatments that can harm beneficial insects, contaminate soil and damage ecosystems.
Physical or mechanical controls include floating row covers, plant collars and other barriers that keep certain pests out of a garden while letting water and sunlight reach the plants.
Diatomaceous earth (DE) is made from fossilized remains of single-celled algae called diatoms. It consists of silica and can be found in powder form. It can be sprinkled around the garden or home. DE works best on soft-bodied pests. It can also be used as an exfoliator for skin and in food preservation. It is important to purchase only food-grade DE, as non-food-grade forms are comprised of crystalline silica and may be hazardous to touch or breathe in humans and pets.
Neem oil, which contains azadirachtin, suffocates soft-bodied pests. It can be mixed with water and sprayed onto plants to help protect them.
Insects munch their way through gardens, suck plant juices or burrow into fruits and seeds. Mammals dig up tender seedlings and help themselves to leaves and fruit. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure! A little knowledge and effort can control garden pests.
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