As a gardener, there’s nothing more frustrating than spending time and energy growing beautiful rows of crops only to wake up and find holes in your plant’s leaves. Whether it’s a hornworm destroying your tomatoes or a rabbit making off with the tops of your pepper plants, garden pests come in all shapes and sizes.
This week, we’re going to cover some great ways to prevent pest damage from occurring at all. The key to keeping your plants pest-free lies in two stages:
- The first step is preventive maintenance; that is, putting in plants that have natural repellent features or using pesticides (Both organic and chemical).
- The second step is vigilance. Being able to identify the type of pest that is damaging your crops goes a long way toward helping mitigate their damage.
One of the best ways to minimize pest damage in your garden is by taking advantage of various plants and their ability to deter unwanted damage. The most common plant in this variety is the marigold. Mexican marigolds will repel rabbits as well as nematodes, aphids, and mosquitoes. The marigolds do have to be scented for the benefits to take effect. For the best results, they should be planted around the border of your garden. There is a small downside to the marigold in that it attracts snails and spider mites.
Another great plant that we put in our gardens is catnip. This spicy smelling plant is actually a variety of mint. With its gentle blue flowers, catnip attracts bees, which is a great benefit to your garden. It also repels ants, beetles, squash bugs, aphids, and weevils. As an amusing benefit, it also repels mice. Another obvious benefit of catnip is its ability to attract cats. Having cats around your garden is not a bad thing, as their presence will repel rabbits, squirrels, and other small furry pests that find your plants tasty. To prevent damage from the cats digging or rolling around, plant catnip along the edges.
Chrysanthemums, nasturtiums, and petunias are two other flowers that we always plant near and around our garden. Chrysanthemums are a great plant because they contain pyrethrum, one of the most common organic pesticides. This chemical in the flower acts as a repellent towards leafhoppers, spider mites, cabbageworms, ticks, and ants. To increase the effectiveness of these flowers, plant these among your other crops, either directly in the soil or in pots. Their ability to grow easily in pots makes them a great choice for balcony and apartment gardeners.
Nasturtiums are something we always plant near our tomatoes, cucumbers, and cabbage. They release a smell that is pleasant to people, but absolutely horrible to whiteflies, squash bugs, and many predacious beetles. However, while they do repel these insects, they do not drive away bees or other pollinators. As an added benefit, nasturtiums are edible. The flowers have a sweet and peppery flavor that makes them a surprising, yet pleasant, addition to a fresh summer salad. The leaves have a much stronger taste than your traditional salads; there is much more pepper and less sweetness. If you do plan to eat them, use only the petals of the flower, as the pollen-bearing parts can trigger allergies.
Petunias are a common basket flower that requires almost no maintenance. They also repel aphids, tomato hornworms and squash bugs, so plant them near tomatoes and zucchini. Because they are so easy to grow in containers, this is another great plant for apartment gardeners. If you have a garden plot, you should also grow ornamental sunflowers. Sunflowers are a very hardy plant, and attract ants and aphids. By planting them on the borders of your garden, you can draw these pests away from the rest of your garden.
While preventive maintenance with plants is a great way to reduce pest damage to your garden, sometimes putting in other flowers isn’t doable, whether because of space constraints or other reasons. To this end, we would like to give you some other ways to help you get the most out of your plants in a safe and non-toxic way.
The absolute best non-plant method of controlling small insects and slugs from harming your garden is diatomaceous earth. This dust is basically the fossilized remains of small hard-shelled algae. It is used in numerous applications, from anti-caking in livestock feed to being used in toothpaste as an abrasive. This means that it is safe to eat and you don’t have to worry about pets or kids getting into it. It works in two ways. First, the dust absorbs critical elements from insect shells, causing them to dehydrate and die. The dust also has microscopic sharp edges, which only speeds up the dehydration process. This is also why it is effective against slugs and snails. As they crawl across the diatomaceous earth, they get small cuts and become dehydrated.
You can also introduce insect predators to your garden. These include the praying mantis, lacewings, and ladybugs. You can either purchase them to release into your garden or you can plant specific things to draw them to your garden. Daisies, asters, and yarrow are all great flowers to draw predatory insects.
If you’re looking for a spray-based insecticide, it is very easy to make one at home from household ingredients. Our favorite non-toxic spray for plants involves a simple mix of ivory dish soap, canola oil, and cayenne pepper. Spray it from both above and below your plant’s leaves for maximum effect. The canola oil smothers current insects (it coats their shell, so they can’t breathe) while the cayenne irritates them and drives new ones away. The presence of the dish soap prevents this spray from being considered organic, but the soap helps the spray adhere to your plants and resist light rain. In a medium spray bottle combine 4 drops of Ivory dish soap, 1 Tbsp. canola oil, and 2 Tbsp. cayenne pepper. Stir, then let sit overnight before use. Shake frequently during application.
We at Crucial hope you’re having a great gardening season despite the crazy temperature variations we’ve been experiencing. Let us know in the comments what types of techniques you use to minimize pest damage in your garden.