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Using Natural Predators for Garden Pest Control

Living on a farm in Brazil, I've gained local in-depth knowledge of food, plants, and traditions, which I share through my articles.

This guide will provide some options for you to take care of pests in your garden without resorting to harmful pesticides.

This guide will provide some options for you to take care of pests in your garden without resorting to harmful pesticides.

Why Use Natural Predators?

Before you start, stop and remind yourself why you opted to have a vegetable garden:

  • You want healthier food for you and your family.
  • You don't like GMO foods that are offered in store although possibly not labeled, depending on where you live.
  • You want to save money.
  • You want better-tasting food.

While these are valid reasons to consider spraying insecticide on your precious vegetable patch, it just seems wrong.

Restoring a balance using natural predators is much better than reaching for the bug spray. For many of us, we have an innate need to grow things as winter falls away and spring begins. In our eagerness to get outside and till the soil, we forget that we need to work with nature and not against it.

Take a step back and see how 'unnatural' you have made your area. Let's assume Mother Nature knows what she is doing and it's only humans who have caused her system to fail. If your garden isn't natural, you are leaving yourself wide open to an array of potential problems, including insect infestation.

Alternatives to Insecticides

Every day we hear how toxic many of the popular insecticides are to humans. This has left us with a dilemma, as we want to have a beautiful and bountiful garden, but the bugs seemed hell-bent on spoiling our plans and eating our plants.

This problem has made people begin searching for alternatives that offer a natural solution. Whether you're gardening flowers or vegetables, the problem is the same, unwanted insects. As soon as your seeds have sprouted your plants are at risk. You may notice when one or two plants have been chewed the following day half are gone. Frustration sets in and you begin wondering why you even considered starting a garden in the first place.

There are more natural ways to control pests in your garden besides deploying pesticides.

There are more natural ways to control pests in your garden besides deploying pesticides.

Best Birds for Pest Control

Birds are one of Mother Nature's greatest bug killers. I never appreciated how many insects are consumed by our resident birds until I stopped and watched them. I live in the northeast of Brazil and from the vantage point of my hammock, I watch a variety of birds. Their hunting techniques vary. Some such as the tropical kingbird dive at flying insects, catching them in mid-flight, with an audible clap of the beak. They eat an assortment of flying insects including butterflies.

The cattle tyrants, that look similar to the kingbird take insects from the ground. They are a common sight around cattle, hence the name. Here on our farm, they follow the mowers and other machinery waiting for an insect to be disturbed and attempt to fly to freedom. Little does the insect know that this opportunistic bird is waiting.

Another technique we see is used by a bird called a guira cuckoo. These birds often hunt in a group and look like a forensic team searching for clues, they make a line and walk across the grass in search of insects, lizards, and frogs.

Attracting birds to your garden will require a few things, plants, and trees where they can either roost or rest and available water. Putting up a bird feeder will not attract insect eating birds, only seed eaters.

Although hummingbirds drink nectar from flowers and feeders they will take small insects as well. Woodpeckers find their insects in trees and other small hidden areas. We have woodpeckers which pound on a metal lamp to scare up insects from between the lamp and the post. Although effective for the woodpecker, it sounds like a jackhammer.

Tropical Kingbird

Tropical Kingbird

Praying Mantis

These are the unsung heroes of the insect world. They are relentless and fearless in their pursuit of insects. The phrase, couldn't harm a fly does not apply to the praying mantis. Don't be fooled by its slender body, this is often just its camouflage that allows it to effectively hide from its prey until an insect is within striking distance. Using the front legs as a vice to hold its victim, the praying mantis then begins to eat.
They will take both small and large insects, and even mice and snakes!

Keeping Spiders in the Garden

Since moving to the tropics, I have done a 180° turn in my attitude to spiders. I can't say I love them, especially not in the house, but I can now appreciate the excellent job they do. No one likes walking into a cobweb, feeling that sticky web stretched across their face, but these eight-legged friends do a sterling job in the garden.

If you take the time to examine a cobweb, it's a work of art. Just as a fisherman casts his net out in the sea catching fish in that given area, the spider's web is a net secured between plants in your garden snagging the flying bugs which have the misfortune not to see the delicate snare.

Spiders are an easy and effective insect control in your garden. Don't kill them or knock down their webs, let them help you in the garden.

Insect Control Using Bats

If you've ever wondered why insects breed in the numbers they do, it is because many don't survive. When the birds go to roost, it's time for the bats. Bats gorge themselves nightly so they are an excellent animal to have around.

Contrary to many reports on the internet, bats do consume mosquitoes but the estimate of 1,000 mosquitoes in an hour is wrong. If mosquitoes were the only insects available, then perhaps, but bats eat a variety of small insects. If you have bats already they are exciting to watch as they twist and turn in mid-flight to catch their prey.

The downside with having bats living in your barn or house is their feces smells and in many areas bats are protected and can't be removed. However for gardeners guano is an excellent, albeit strong fertilizer.

Not all bats eat insects, there are also fruit bats and even bats that eat fish. To bring bats into your garden, consider a bat box for them to roost.

Bats for Natural Pest Control

Bats for Natural Pest Control

How to Encourage Owls to Nest in Your Area

Here on our farm, we have a few different species of owls and boy can they eat insects. Like the bats, these nighttime visitors are hard at work when you are curled up in bed. They tirelessly munch their way through beetles and other insects. I think of them as the night time security guards over the garden.

We often find pellets during the day that the owls have coughed up. These are full of insect casings and parts they couldn't digest. Owls will also take lizards, mice, and other small prey.

To encourage owls into your garden you can place nesting boxes up and if owls are in your area, they will likely get used.

Wasps Eat Caterpillars

I use to avoid wasps before I moved to our farm and am ashamed to say I knocked down their nests whenever possible. Once, with my sisters and cousins, we nearly burned my mother's house down trying to get rid of a wasp nest in a bush using a lighter and a can of hairspray. (I do not recommend doing this).

Now I have seen the error of my ways and although I don't go out of my way to befriend them, their nests are rarely removed until the larva has hatched. No, I haven't gone mad, I have simply realized how beneficial they can be to a garden or an organic farm. Like it or not, you should be encouraging wasps in your garden, as they too help with pest control.

If you have caterpillars eating your plants, wasps will seek them out and carry them back to their nests. They will push the caterpillars and small spiders inside the mud nest before sealing the nest. This will be a full meal for the young which will soon be hatching.

Below is a photo I took of a mud dauber wasp doing just this. It had built its mud dome on the wall of our house and brought back a caterpillar from our bougainvillea for its unhatched offspring.

Mud dauber wasp with caterpillar.  All rights reserved

Mud dauber wasp with caterpillar. All rights reserved

Frogs and Toads

If you live near a body of water, you most likely will have frogs and toads. At night we can see the toads sitting under the light in the garden waiting for insects to fly too low. The toads hide up during the day coming out about 6 pm (local time). The ones who have hidden around our patio area, usually go for a dip first in the dog's water bowl. I guess it is the bath before they head off to work.

It is likely you have toads already in your garden, hiding under a shed or beneath undergrowth.

To bring frogs and toads to your area, keep a place that is overgrown so they can shelter from the heat of the day.

Frog and Butterfly

Frog and Butterfly

Lady Bugs for Aphid Control

The insects and animals I've listed are just a small portion of the beneficial wildlife you could begin to introduce.

Let's not forget the humble little lady bug. These are fantastic at ridding a garden of aphids which can devastate many different plants in your garden. These tiny but beautiful beetles work tirelessly helping you maintain a pest-free garden.

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.

© 2017 Mary Wickison


Mary Wickison (author) from USA on June 12, 2017:

Hi Peggy,

I know those nests can be unsightly but you're right about waiting until they're empty. I do draw the line for them when they build their nest inside my house. Removing a muddy nest on a white wall.... is messy.

I still find it amazing how even a simple source of water can be a magnet for birds. We are surrounded by water yet they gravitate to the bird bath.

Thanks for your comment.

Mary Wickison (author) from USA on June 12, 2017:

Hi Elena,

I think Mother Nature knows what she is doing with maintaining a balanced system. It is only man when tries to control it that things go pear shaped.

I'm pleased you enjoyed it, thanks for reading.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on June 11, 2017:

Those mud dauber nests are constantly being built on our brick house. After reading this I will only knock them down if the nests have been vacated.

We encourage lots of birds in our yard with our bird bath. It is constantly being used and we refresh the water daily.

Elena from London, UK on June 11, 2017:

There is so much to learn in this Hub. Even the dainty Lady Bugs, play a big role in maintaining gardens. I don't have a garden where I live, but when I move, I will refer to this Hub again and print it out.

That was a sweet story about the Owls and the coconut tree. :-)


Mary Wickison (author) from USA on March 18, 2017:

They are not only fascinating to watch, they will do an excellent job in your garden. Glad to hear you've got at least the one and pleased you enjoy the article.

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on March 16, 2017:

I saw a praying mantis on my back patio the other day. I was thrilled because I'd never seen them on my property before. However, I never knew how beneficial they are to the garden until reading this article.

Thanks for the great information!

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on February 13, 2017:

That bird chart is very interesting as is the rest of the information you give. Never heard of bats being useful. I now have a new appreciation for all these creatures. Just wish they would stick with their pest control responsibilities. Very helpful article.

Mary Wickison (author) from USA on February 13, 2017:

Hi Alocsin,

I couldn't agree more, having birds around is beneficial for many reasons. I consider them part of our team here on our farm.

Thanks for your visit.

Aurelio Locsin from Orange County, CA on February 13, 2017:

Bringing birds to the garden adds a welcome level of nature. The fact that they eliminate pests is a bonus.

Mary Wickison (author) from USA on February 12, 2017:

Hi Nell,

I neglected to mention in the hub that sometimes we get tarantulas in the house. Once I had one in the toilet, which I only noticed when I stood up to flush. I flew out of the bathroom and instructed my husband to remove it.

Not only those, but frogs, geckos, and just a couple of days ago I had a snake about 30 cm from my foot when I was typing away on the laptop. Living in the tropics is an adventure.

Mary Wickison (author) from USA on February 12, 2017:

Hi Karen,

They are such interesting insects, we feel fortunate to have the variety we do here on our farm.

I'm pleased you liked the article, thanks for reading.

Nell Rose from England on February 12, 2017:

Great hub! we don't have a garden only a balcony, but I would definitely take your ideas and implement them if I did. not sure about leaving the spiders alone though! lol!

Karen Hellier from Georgia on February 12, 2017:

I love your comment about the praying mantis being the "unsung heroes of the insect world." Great hub filled with wonderful information.

Mary Wickison (author) from USA on February 12, 2017:

Hi Bill,

Although all might not stay in your yard, I am sure the neighborhood is a happier and aphid free place because of your actions.

Just a few small natural changes can create a big impact, as I am sure you're aware.

Great to hear from you, have a wonderful week.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on February 12, 2017:

All great suggestion! We don't use fertilizers or pest control items at all...all natural here, my friend. We do buy 1000 ladybugs in April and turn them loose....they LOVE aphids. :)

Mary Wickison (author) from USA on February 12, 2017:

Hi Mel Carriere,

Isn't it fascinating how many adapt to their surroundings? I think that is a crucial part of a bird's part of survival. Those which have too specialized a diet or nesting requirements can't evolve and are pushed out of an area. When I lived in the UK, I'd see crows using traffic to crack open nuts. They are highly adaptable and smart.

Here at our home, we have recorded more than 120 species with some of those nesting on our farm. Nothing like the Pantanal's colorful array but still interesting to observe.

I am a transplant from California but not Southern California, I'm from Fresno.

Thanks for sharing some of your bird sightings with us. I think everyone can benefit from slowing down and seeing the nature which surrounds them. As you know you don't have to get into a car and drive to a national park or reserve, you just have to become more observant.

Glad you liked the hub, thanks for reading.

Mel Carriere from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on February 11, 2017:

I am sure checking off all the new birds to be seen in a Brazilian garden such as yours would be a fascinating experience for me.

Here in Southern California, birds play a big part in our garden life as well. Being a transplanted SoCal girl, you may remember, or you may have only started noticing after moving to a place where the birds seem more impressive.

I have had Black Phoebes follow me when I am mowing the lawn. They dive bomb moths that the mower scares up.

On almost a daily basis, we have flocks of tiny Bushtits, about 30 in each flock, that move through the trees in undulating flight, cleaning each plant in turn.

In the winter we have Yellow-rumped Warblers, sometimes called "butterbutts," digging for grubs on our front lawn.

Fake lawns are trending here in SoCal now. But the above reasons, and more, are why I'll never get one. Too antiseptic and sterile. I enjoy watching life in action. Great hub!