Maintaining a beautiful yard and garden can be a daunting task. It takes a tremendous amount of work. We plant, water, fertilize and weed. But no matter how meticulous we are in the care of our landscape, we do share the great outdoors with an abundant number of other species and many of them enjoy our flowers and plants as much as we do. Pests can be problematic, and there are seemingly endless options available to rid your yard of them. Each year in the U.S., homeowners use approximately 136 million pounds of pesticides, and homeowners tend to apply them at a much greater rate than the professionals and even farmers. Now, more than ever, we are aware of the need to pay attention to what types of chemicals are in the products that we use. Of particular concern are the chemicals that may end up in our food and water. Hundreds of years ago, homeowners had to come up with natural remedies to remove pest infestations from their garden plants. Today, we can try some proven effective methods to combat those pesky insects, without causing harm to our family, our pets and the environment. Before you pile on the insecticides, try to a few of the following ideas to get ahead of the game when it comes to reducing your pest population. Pick a pest, any pest and you may be able to find a more natural way to get rid of it.
Prevention can be key to keeping pests at bay. The best way to keep pests from staking their claim in your landscape is to discourage them from coming in and making themselves comfortable in the first place. A healthy garden is the best defense. Some things to consider:
- Start with healthy, organic soil. Mulching and top-dressing your soil with compost or natural fertilizer is the best way to develop strong, vigorous plants.
- Pick disease-resistant varieties when planting. Check out catalogs and websites, or ask your local garden center for ideas on the varieties available.
- Pull out weak plants as they may be infested already. If not, they’re sure to attract pests, so pull them out and dispose of them. To prevent reinfection, don’t add to your compost pile, trash them instead.
- Clear the area of debris and weeds, which are breeding grounds for pests. Add fresh mulch.
- Disinfect any tools used if you’ve been working with infested plants to reduce their chance of spreading.
- Fungal infections need moisture to grow and spread. Keeping foliage dry is important. Take care to space plants no closer than recommended, as tightly spaced plants take longer to dry out. Water early in the day so foliage will be dry for most of the day. Avoid overhead watering, instead, water around the base of plants when possible. Vine crops can be supported trellises so that leaves and fruit are not in contact with damp soil.
- Test your soil. Some plants grown in poor soil, or soil that is too alkaline or acidic will develop problems. For information on how to get your soil checked in Kalamazoo County, click here.
- Rotate your crops. To keep disease at bay, change the location of where you grow a particular crop each year. This rotation also promotes better soil fertility.
Another method of controlling pests is companion planting. Pests are often plant specific and companion planting can be very effective at controlling infestation. Companion planting in gardening and agriculture is the planting of different crops in proximity for pest control, pollination, providing a habitat for beneficial creatures, maximizing use of space and to otherwise increase crop productivity. It’s certainly worth it to try a few of the following:
- Broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables belonging to the cabbage family do well planted with celery, dill, peppermint, sage, rosemary, potatoes, onions and beets.
- Nasturtiums can also be planted near cabbages, as well as potatoes, pumpkins, radishes, beans, and squash to repel aphids, squash bugs, Mexican bean beetles and potato bugs.
- Onions deter most pests. Plant them near beets, lettuce, parsnips, carrots and cabbage.
- Marigolds are great to plant near any garden crops. Try a border around the garden for color and function. They help to stimulate vegetable growth and deter aphids, squash bugs, potato bugs and bean beetles.
- One last tip for the pests that would rather nibble on you than your plants. Plant a container of herbs such as basil, thyme, lemongrass and lavender on your deck or patio. These plants can help to keep the flies and mosquitos away and can be used to make your meals more flavorful.
To read more extensively about companion planting, click here.
While the main idea here is to keep the bugs out, there are a lot of insects that you should be happy to invite in to your outdoor spaces. Pesticides will kill off the bugs you don’t want, but they can also destroy the helpful ones. Unfortunately, the good bugs generally take longer to re-establish than the ones you are trying to get rid of. The good ones can help to eliminate pests organically and are referred to as natural enemies. They are three categories:
- Predators are often larger and stronger than their pray and tend to eat many of their targets over their lifetime. Ladybugs, spiders and praying mantis all fall in to this category.
- Parasitoids are specialized insects that develop as young in one host, eventually killing it. They usually kill only one prey in their lifetime. Flies and wasps are two examples.
- Pathogens cause disease. Many occur naturally in gardens, while others need to be introduced in to the garden. They include bacteria, fungi, viruses, protozoans, and nematodes.
Many of these helpful insects can even be purchased at a garden center or online, making it easy to place them in your landscape. To learn more about how they work and how to choose the right ones for your garden, read here.
There are many options for natural pest control that can be tried before resorting to chemical formulas. They are cost-effective and can be safely utilized without causing harm to your family, pets, and the environment. Best of all, you don’t need to be a master gardener to try them out. Pick a pest, any pest, and you may be able to find a more natural way to get rid of it.