Did pesky insects get the best of you and your garden last year? Were you witness to overnight attacks on your vegetable crop? Are you a bit worried that this year might bring a repeat performance? You invest a lot of time, effort, and money into planning, preparing, and planting your garden. So it’s extremely disheartening when, one day you check your garden plot to see everything flourishing and then the next day, you find your garden has been devoured. Believe me, I know firsthand how frustrating it can be! Never fear! With a little strategy and forethought, common garden pests can be managed.
Be a Smart Cookie! Outsmart garden pests. The easiest way to prevent insect damage in your garden is to discourage them from coming in the first place. Keeping your garden healthy is the best defense. Pull out weak plants and dispose of them away from the garden area. Weak plants may already be infected with insects. If not, they will most certainly attract predators.
Look to the Sea! Use seaweed in your garden. Seaweed helps to promote healthy, vigorous growth in your plants, making them more resistant to insect attacks. Regularly spraying your garden with liquid seaweed through the spring and summer will help prevent damage caused by sucking insects like aphids.
Take Out the Trash. Clear garden area of rotting debris and weeds which are breeding places for insects.
Turn! Turn! Turn! Rotate crops. Insect pests are often plant specific. When plantings are mixed, pests are less likely to spread throughout a crop. Rotating crops each year is a common method to avoid re-infestation of pests. Crop rotation allows you to naturally interrupt the life cycle of pests and diseases so they cannot become established.
Go Undercover. Sometimes the best way to head off insect trouble is to stretch some row covers over your crops. Besides keeping out pests, such as cucumber beetles and squash bugs, row covers speed crop growth by trapping a blanket of warm air around new seedlings and established plants. Floating row covers consist of lightweight opaque material which is draped over the garden bed. Sunlight and water go through, but insects and birds are kept out. Row covers are great for protecting seedlings. They are even more useful during the growing season because it makes an effective barrier against flying insects looking for a plant on which to lay their eggs.
Mix It Up. A mix of scents can help deter certain insects. Try mixing plants from different families. Instead of planting long rows of a single crop, plant onions alongside broccoli, tomatoes with basil and chives, and peas with carrots. Better yet, interplant edibles with ornamentals. Add a few hot pepper plants to your flowerbeds, or edge your vegetable beds with low-growing annuals like marigolds.
Ladybug, Ladybug … Don’t Fly Away Home! Adult ladybugs eat aphids, mites, and mealy bugs, and their hungry larvae do even more damage to garden pests. Plant dill, fennel, and yarrow to attract them or order live ladybugs from garden catalogs.
Don’t Call A Plumber. Let it drip and keep foliage dry. Use a drip-irrigation method to deliver water to the plant roots without wetting the foliage. If a dripirrigation system is not an option for you, water early in the mornings and water at the base of the plant so foliage will be dry for most of the day. Wet foliage draws insects to your plants and promotes foliage burns as well as fungus.
Pull Back the Mulch. Mulch maintains soil moisture and improves soil quality. Unfortunately, under certain conditions mulch can also provide a home for insects that feed on tender young plants, such as slugs, sow bugs, and pill bugs. If these pests typically pose a problem in your garden, pull your mulch at least two inches away from the stems and stalks of transplants and young seedlings.
Deter Them. Neem oil kills most garden pests and many are repelled by neem oil, which means that they stay away from the plant on which neem oil is sprayed. Apply neem oil about once a week and apply it like you would other oil based sprays in that you should make sure that the leaves of the plant are coated, top and bottom. An additional bonus for neem oil is that it does not kill bugs that do not chew on leaves. All beneficial bugs fall into this category, so you can spray your plants with this organic spray and be sure that you will kill the undesirable bugs while keeping the bugs that help your plants like bees, butterflies, and spiders. Neem oil is also an effective fungicide. Applying it to plants can kill harmful fungi.