Chris Sherwood is a project manager by day and avid home and garden scholar by night who loves to share his trials and success with others.
The infiltration of your garden by unwanted pests is something every gardener has to deal with when starting or maintaining a garden. However, just because pests find a way to sneak into your flowers and vegetables, doesn't mean you have to let them set up house. Here are four organic ways to help evict these unwanted garden dwellers.
One of the best ways to reduce pest pressure on your garden is to introduce predatory insects that help reduce and even eliminate certain pest populations. One of the most well known beneficial insects is the ladybug. Ladybugs prey on many garden foes including aphids, grape rootworm, whiteflies, spider mites, and bean thrips. Your local garden stores may carry these garden heroes, but you can also order them online. Other helpful beneficial predators in the garden include praying mantis, syrphid fly, green lacewing, soldier beetles and predatory wasps.
While purchasing beneficial predators is an okay option, creating an environment in your garden that attracts these beneficial insects is even better. Plant pollen-heavy plants like sunflowers and utilize chemical-free gardening techniques to maintain a healthy balance of good bugs in your garden. Interplanting a wide mix of flowers and herbs throughout your rows or boxes like cosmos, borage, zinnias, sweet alyssum, and nasturtiums can also attract beneficials These slight changes to your gardening also help increase the chances that your purchased predators will stick around.
Neem oil is a gardener's best friend when it comes to organic pest management. Neem oil has been used for over a hundred years and comes from the leaves and seeds of the neem tree. The active component of neem is azadirachtin, which can interrupt pest life cycles at the egg, larvae and adult stages.
Neem works in different ways depending on the age and type of insect. It acts as an antifeedant, or in other words, it impacts a pest's desire to eat the plant making your tender lettuce plants less attractive. It can also work through coating some insects and smothering them. Neem can even disrupt various insect's hormones, preventing pests from reaching maturity and stopping the breeding cycle. As an added benefit, neem oil also works as a natural fungicide with varying effectiveness on powdery mildew, leaf spot, and rust.
The Barrier Method
One of the most effective ways to prevent pests from taking over your garden is to isolate plants during their most tender stages. Row covers allow you to block out most pests, either allowing them to reach maturation or blocking them out long enough for your plants to grow stronger and less tempting to destructive, hungry insects. Your row covers should be made out of a material that is breathable, durable, and light to allow airflow and proper sun exposure for growth.
Row covers do have some drawbacks to consider. First, the fabric can not only block out pests but can block out beneficial pollinators as well. Keep this in mind when trying to grow fruiting plants, as you'll need to either hand pollinate or remove the row cover after flowers set. Some pests may still get under the row cover, so you'll need to check for signs of plant damage or other activity. When pests like whiteflies and aphids get under your cover, they can multiply much faster without exposure to natural predators blocked out by the row cover. The added increase in temperature and humidity can also make unchecked populations explode.
Keep in mind that putting the time and investment into row covers has the additional benefit of helping extend your season with protection from frost during the late fall and early spring.
Avoid Monoculture With Companions
There's a lot of debate about just how beneficial companion planting is for helping plants grow stronger and faster, but companion planting mixed with avoiding monoculture in your garden beds and rows can do a lot for pest management and prevention. At the very least, it can assure that if one row of broccoli gets infested with cabbage worms, you'll still have another planting of broccoli somewhere else that hopefully won't be impacted.
Not only should you plant a wide range of different flowers or vegetables throughout your plot versus clumping all the same produce in a row or specific box, but you should also plant mindfully. Plan to plant deterrents around prized plants, such as seeding borage and basil around tomato plants to deter tomato hornworm, or planting a row of garlic or onions around your brassicas to repel cabbage worm and aphids from destroying your cauliflower, kale, and broccoli.
No matter what you do, pests will always find their way to your garden. To make things even more complicated, different gardening zones will have different pests that react in various ways to different control methods. This is why there's no silver bullet method to keeping any garden pest-free. Instead, think of pest management as a battle on multiple fronts. Combine different methods and see what works best for you in your area. Gardening is all about experimentation and learning to work within the individual nature and habitat around you.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 Chris Sherwood