The Best Ways to Keep Pests Out of Your Garden

by Jessica Brita-Segyde

Does your garden have a pest problem? Pesky intruders can come at your flowers and vegetables from all angles. Land, air, and subterranean infestations might strike during any part of your garden’s maturity. Some examples: grubs eat roots, birds eat seeds, bunny rabbits steal leaves and aphids will suck the sap right out of your stems. How can a gardener protect his or her precious foliage against so many hungry predators? Options do exist and it starts with prevention.

Good Planning

Proper planning can often head-off problems before they start. This life lesson applies in the garden as well. Consider your plant mix and whether the flowers and vegetables you prefer are likely to draw bugs in your area. Research the plants you like to find out if any of them have an unscrupulous history in your climate and are prone to infestation.

On the upside, some plants even repel flying insects, grubs, and other outdoor veggie-destroyers. According to MarthaStewart.com, fragrant herbs like basil and strong-smelling flowers such as marigolds help to prevent fly and aphid infestations. Other flying insects like ladybugs and bees may be drawn to fragrant plants but will actually enhance the beauty of your garden. (Ladybugs repel the leaf-nibblers like mites and scale. Bees procure pollination.)

Incorporating a diversity of plants also helps to prevent an overload of garden intruders. Single-crop planting, whether large- or small-scale, tends to invite an overpopulation of insects as well as fungus and other troublemakers. Include several different flowers, herbs, and vegetables in your garden and rotate the species and location of your plants each year.

Organic Add-Ins

Many invasive pests attack plants where you can’t see – the roots. Treating your soil before or during gardening season is a productive step to pest prevention. One option is to introduce parasitic nematodes into the soil. A nematode is a beneficial worm that is toxic to most garden pests. Another option is to treat the surface of the soil with a hot chili pepper spray to deter flying insects, thereby reducing the likelihood that those insects will lay grub-producing eggs in your garden space. Chili pepper treatments are available commercially and may also deter rodents and other animal life from getting close enough to nibble on your plants.

If an infestation already exists, a severely infected plant or row of plants may need to be removed and discarded to prevent spreading.

Conventional Methods

Conventional insecticides and repellants are found at every gardening or big-box store in America. These products have long been used to keep gardens and lawns pest-free. Back in 1965, The New York Times Book of Lawn Care recommended chemicals so strong that their effects would last “many years if applied properly.” However, the chemical varieties that dominated midcentury advice publications have fallen out of favor in recent years. Some chemical varieties are still available but all-natural pest-busters like Dr. Earth are rapidly gaining shelf space. With any commercial product, read the application instructions before purchasing. Some pesticides and repellants can be applied directly out of their display container but others will require a separate spray container or hose. Many first-year gardeners have started into the year’s first garden prep only to discover that they need to go all the way back to the store for more supplies (not fun!) If you do need to purchase any extra equipment like a sprayer or nozzle it can likely be flushed-out and reused in future seasons.

You can also make your own pesticide, insecticide, or pest repellant at home. Recipes usually involve some type of soap or hot pepper. Check out TreeHugger.com for simple at-home recipes.

Manual Labor

There’s nothing wrong with picking bugs off with a gloved hand. Soapy water also works for detaching bugs from stems. Larger plants can withstand a strong hose spray, saving the gardener some labor. If you have a known grub problem, remove the roots of any plants you’ve harvested and discard those roots somewhere other than the garden.

Successful gardens are the result of an attentive gardener. Plan well, pay attention to your plants, and treat any known or suspected pest issues as soon as possible. Good luck and happy growing!

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