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Pests in your garden? Learn how a healthy balance can help.
Gardening gives us so much joy after a long cold winter, but along with the excitement of seeing your flowers and veggies blossom and grow, is the frustration when they are eaten and destroyed by tiny insects and animals.
We can turn to pesticides to get rid of those insects or we can learn how to create a healthier, harmonious environment that does not harm beneficial insects, birds and animals, or poison our water, food and increase the risk of cancer. A balanced garden will attract more beneficial insects such as bees, as well as birds and wildlife that will keep pests away naturally.
There is no fool-proof solution but with patience, we can enjoy a more balanced garden and healthier environment for our family and pets.
Rules of thumb for a healthier garden
Your plants, shrubs and trees will always have a better chance of surviving an attack from pests if you keep them healthy. Select healthy plants and plant them at the right time in the right location with optimum light levels. Enrich the soil with compost, then fertilize and water properly.
Observe your plants regularly for any sign of pests. Planting in raised beds can help to prevent small animals from eating your veggies.
Try to plant a variety of vegetables and flowers so that your garden does not become a magnet for one dominant pest. To prevent moulds like Late Blight from attacking your tomatoes, look for blight-resistant varieties at your local nursery.
If some of your plants tend to keep attracting insects or other damaging conditions, it may be best to remove those plants.
When trying to get rid of insects that harm your plants and trees, extra care must be taken not to kill all the beneficial insects and creatures in the process. Many insects and animals actually help your plants to be healthier by eating harmful pests.
The centuries-old method of companion planting is gaining in popularity as we strive to grow our own vegetables and flower gardens without the use of potentially harmful chemical pesticides.
There are so many plants that can give your veggies, fruits and flowers a helping hand. Check at your local nursery for some of the proven combinations.
Planting herbs throughout your vegetable garden is a great strategy – not only do you improve the flavour of your veggies while keeping them safe from pests, but you can add them to your cooking!
Maybe you have considered buying some beneficial bugs like ladybugs, praying mantis or nematodes to get rid of pests naturally.
Nematodes do a great job of infesting larvae in the soil to prevent lawn grubs and other pests.
Lady bugs are very helpful as they eat aphids as well as mites, fleas and whitefly.
Praying mantis is a strong predator to have on your team as they enjoy eating almost any insect including beetles, crickets, and moths.
Leaf miner: The larvae live in the leaves and start eating the leaf as soon as they hatch.
The best solution is to make sure the tree or plant is healthy, fertilized and well watered. You can also use a predator such as lacewing. Chemicals should be a last resort only.
Aphids: Pear-shaped sap-sucking insects. Natural predators are ladybugs as well as wasps, syrphid fly larvae and lacewings. Controlling ants will help reduce the number of aphids.
Stink bugs: Brown shield-shaped bodies, these invasive pests emit a foul odor and suck fruits and vegetables. You can try to stop them as soon as they appear by spraying them with a soap and water solution, 40 parts water to one part soap, and dropping them into a bucket of soapy water. They fly but can also hatch in the soil beneath the plants so apply soapy water to the soil as well. Another method to deter stink bugs is to sprinkle diatomaceous earth to the soil beneath your plants.
Deer, possums, skunks, squirrels, chipmunks and groundhogs as well as many other creatures like to visit your garden. Be creative and use humane and natural methods to deter them from devouring your plants.
Moles dig tunnels in their search of insects, grubs and worms, making a real mess of your lawn. One natural solution is to put used kitty litter down their tunnel to make them sense that a predator is nearby. Another is to plant castor beans but take care as they are very poisonous. Or you can make a solution of two tablespoons castor oil, one tablespoon dishwashing liquid and one gallon of water, mixed together and poured down the tunnels.
Rabbits are cute but not when they have eaten your entire crop of veggies overnight! You can try putting cages around your plants to protect them. Blood meal can help to scare off the rabbits while fertilizing your plants. Or you can give your plants a sprinkling of red pepper powder to make it smell bad.
You’re lucky if you have bats, the only flying mammal in your garden. They eat mosquitos and other insects as well as many pests. Did you know they are also great pollinators? It’s well worth having a bat house in your garden so the bats can roost and help control your pest population.
Attract birds to your garden with a bird bath and nesting boxes, and they will reward you by eating the insects that would otherwise attack your plants.
If you have tried your best to get rid of the pests in your garden with natural methods, but they just keep coming back, you can make an organic spray to smother them. Mix two cups of cooking oil and one cup of dish liquid. Add a tablespoon of this mixture to one litre of water and spray it on the insects.
Organically certified sprays should be used only after you have tried the natural methods.
Encouraging and maintaining a natural balance in your garden is crucial for long-term survival of the many interdependent insects and animals on our planet. If we interfere with this natural balance, we risk wiping out entire species, which almost happened in the 1950s with the widespread use of DDT pesticide. It will take a bit of trial and error, close observation and patience, but the long-term result will be a healthier, more robust garden where your plants can flourish.