Whether munching your marigolds or decimating your dahlias, garden pests are a nuisance.
Although it can be tempting to reach for the bug spray and simply zap them away, insects are in trouble. It’s estimated that 40 percent of global insect species are in decline and a third are endangered.
Insects play a vital role in garden ecosystems, even those we class as pests provide food for the good bugs, which in turn provide food for birds and other small creatures.
We know how harmful pesticides are, not least for the essential pollinators that are vital to the global food chain.
Most of the time, it’s unlikely that garden pests will cause irreparable damage to your plants but some infestations can get a little out of hand.
Read on to discover 7 natural ways to control or prevent unwelcome bug gatherings, helping you, your garden, and the environment.
1. Grow deterrent plants
Ask any gardener what their main bugbear is when it comes to garden pests and you can bet they said aphids.
These small insects use their mouths to pierce tender plants and feed on the sap. You’ll often notice them clustered together under new plant shoots and they’ll cause the tender leaves to curl up or turn yellow.
Ants often exacerbate aphid infestations, they tend to protect the aphids from other predators and ‘farm’ them, eating the honeydew that the aphids produce.
Although it may seem like you’re facing an impossible battle when it comes to eliminating aphids, there are a few ways that you can deter these pesky critters from your plants.
Believe it or not, aphids can’t stand the smell of certain plants.
Marigolds, sage, garlic, peppermint, and catnip are all repellant to aphids and can be planted next to susceptible plants. Aphids are particularly attracted to nasturtium and mustard plants so planting these next to a crop you don’t want to be destroyed is an effective solution.
Planting companion plants with fruits and vegetables (also known as interplanting) also helps to improve the health of the soil, which improves plant health, leading to improved resilience to pests.
2. Attract beneficial insects
Did you know that 99 percent of insects are harmless or beneficial? That leaves just 1 percent that causes damage to crops. An average backyard will harbor thousands of predatory and parasitic insects, all of which will help to control pests.
Ladybugs, parasitic wasps, praying mantises, green lacewings, spiders, ground beetles, hoverflies, the aptly named assassin bugs, and dragonflies will all feast on troublesome bugs.
To attract beneficial insects to your garden, plant pollen-rich flowers such as sunflowers, cosmos, yarrow, and goldenrod. Predatory insects are also attracted to flowering herbs such as lavender, mint, sage, and lemon balm.
By providing an abundance of food, water, and shelter, you will attract beneficial insects to your backyard in droves, giving you the most effective, natural pest control solution there is.
3. Cover susceptible crops
If you like to grow brassicas, then you’ll be familiar with the widespread cabbage maggot. Occurring in late summer, the white maggots can destroy entire crops by feeding on the roots of cabbages, broccoli, and cauliflowers.
Cabbage root flies lay their eggs on the crops so the best way to deter them is to cover the crops or grow them undercover. Netting crops will also prevent butterflies from laying their eggs on plants that you want to eat.
4. Choose resistant plants
Some plants are naturally more resistant to pests than others and some have been specifically produced to resist pests.
Try to choose varieties that are less likely to attract pests, grow crops at different times of the year when pests are less likely to be a problem, and give companion planting a go.
Planting naturally pest-resistant plants like garlic between plants that pests can’t resist is an extremely effective way to deter bugs.
5. Make a bug barrier
When it comes to deterring pests, sometimes prevention is the best way. Creating a physical barrier between the plant and the pest is arguably the most effective way to deter pests.
You can use cloches, netting, and floating row covers to protect delicate plants. Copper tape works wonders when it comes to repelling slugs and snails.
Wrap a length of tape around the top of a plant pot to stop slimy critters from crawling onto your precious plants.
Just make sure you’ve checked the pot and removed any unwelcome guests before adding the copper tape and position your container well away from other plants and furniture.
6. Keep your plants healthy
It sounds obvious, but the healthier your plant, the less likely it is to be badly affected by pest damage.
Keep plants well fed and watered, make sure that they receive the right amount of sunlight and shade, and keep an eye out for early signs of pest damage.
7. Concoct a DIY bug spray
There are many ways to create your own homemade, chemical-free bug sprays and they can be really effective.
- Try adding 3 tablespoons of cayenne pepper to a quart of water and spraying the spicy solution onto brassica leaves and stems. It works well against cabbage loppers.
- Make an aphid repelling oil spray by mixing a tablespoon of soap powder with one cup of vegetable oil and shaking it together. Add two tablespoons of the oil mix to a quart of water and spray liberally onto the affected plants.
- Neem oil is derived from the seeds of the neem tree. It’s biodegradable and won’t harm pets, birds, or other wildlife but is an effective insecticide. Follow the directions on the bottle to make the right solution and spray it onto plant leaves before or during bug infestations.
- Garlic is a well-known insect repellant. To make a pungent-smelling spray, blend two garlic bulbs with a little water into a thick paste. Take a quart jar and strain the mixture over this. Add enough water to fill the jar and a teaspoon of liquid soap. Dilute the garlicky mixture with water and spray directly onto plants.
By taking a few simple steps, it’s possible to deter many common bugs from your precious plants, resulting in a healthy garden that teams with life and gives you a clean conscience.