The projected last frost date isn’t always accurate, but I keep a keen eye on my calendar anyway. Spring is finally here and that means gardening! The garden is tilled and I’ve planned out this year’s crops. Tomatoes, peppers, squash, green beans, onions, strawberries and copious herbs always make the list and a rotating cornucopia of edible favorites abound.
Hopes are high for a rich bounty, but not without some effort. As much as I love the vegetable garden, nefarious pests have the same tastes and keeping them at bay is always a challenge. Keeping pests out of the garden is an ongoing effort, but starting with a few basic pest control techniques works wonders without resorting to the use of synthetic chemical treatment.
What are you growing this year? Whatever you have in mind, these strategies for natural pest control can help keep the garden healthy and thriving this growing season.
Know What to Plant
If certain pests have been a problem in the past, selecting crops that don’t appeal to them is a good start. Even better, try companion planting. Many plants act as natural insect repellents and including them in your gardening plan will keep plant-munching critters at bay without lifting a finger.
Planting basil near tomato plants will discourage thrips, flies and mosquitoes. Chives will ward off destructive Japanese beetles and garlic is a natural aphid (and vampire) repellent. Thyme deters cabbage worms, catnip is a squash bug, weevil and ant buster, and petunias send tomato worms packing. Knowing what doesn’t appeal to pests is an easy way to keep your crops happy without giving up the plants you love to grow.
Crop rotation is about knowing when and where to plant certain crops. Many pests overwinter in the soil, re-emerging in the spring to resume the havoc you thought ended last fall. Changing up crop placement or skipping a year for plants facing serious problems in the garden can put an end to chronic pest problems and will help bolster soil nutrition.
Attract Beneficial Bugs
Not all bugs are the bad guys. There’s a battle going on in the garden and calling in the cavalry can make all the difference when it comes to pest control. Insects like ladybugs, damsel bugs and parasitic wasps are all welcome in my garden as they feast on aphids, leafhoppers and cabbageworms. Avoid wide-spectrum pesticides that will knock out these garden pals and determine what plants or flowers can be used to attract the beneficial insects that will have the most impact in your garden.
Cull the Weak
Sometimes an infestation is not without casualties. Not to go all Star Trek on you, but the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. Remove infected plants beyond salvation to prevent damage from spreading so other plants may live long and prosper. Yeah, I said it.
When dealing with garden pests, it’s easy to forget the big ones until it’s too late. Insects aren’t the only danger to garden crops and four-legged marauders can quickly wipe out the entire garden. Enclose the garden with sturdy fencing to discourage deer, rabbits, dogs and other animal pests from the garden.
Apply Elbow Grease
While planting strategies and beneficial insects make a huge difference, sometimes the solution lies with a good pair of gloves and a few hours on your hands and knees. Pull weeds frequently to keep plants healthy and discourage breeding habitats for garden pests. Manual removal of visible insects like aphids or other damaging garden visitors like snails and slugs is crucial for a productive garden, and time spent in the rows will allow close-up inspection of plants to detect any potential or developing problems.
Every garden faces different pest challenges. Keep an eye out for issues, identify the cause and apply strategies appropriate to the problem. If chemical treatment is the act of last resort, use sparingly and avoid wide-spectrum pesticides to keep your garden and its beneficial inhabitants healthy. See the gallery below for more tips.