How Does Your Garden Grow? The Humane, Eco-Friendly Way
Dealing with pests is an inevitable challenge faced by every gardener. We’ve all experienced the frustration of seeing months of thoughtful care and maintenance completely set back by unwanted visitors to a vegetable patch or flower row. Thankfully, help is close to hand, and there’s absolutely zero need to spray your garden with unnecessary, potentially harmful chemicals. Here are three humane, smart approaches to garden pest control that are both effective and protect the environment.
The Birds and the Bees (and friends!)
Instead of focusing only on subtraction, think about inviting the right insects and animals into your garden. True enough, there are countless insects, birds and other creatures that can permanently improve the health and overall natural balance of any garden.
Garden-friendly insects include bees (pollinate flowers), ground beetles eat (slugs) ladybugs and lacewings (feed on aphids) and hoverflies (perfect for cutting down on caterpillars and grubs). For ground beetles that like to burrow and keep covered during the day, give them plenty of shade and keep your soil well-maintained with fresh mulch. For carpenter bees consider the addition of an easy-to-maintain beneficial insect nest that can be left out year-round without maintenance.
Bats offer front-line resistance against invasive pets, and a Bat Nest or Bat Box makes an ideal alternative to harmful spraying. Bats are unfairly reviled by some, but the fact is these shy (and in many places endangered) animals love to eat insects, especially fruit flies, locusts, moths and mosquitoes. And we aren’t kidding around: some species of bat can consume 80 to 100 percent of their body weight in insects every night.
A diverse bird population is another sign of a healthy garden, making the installation of a birdhouse an indispensable part of any pest strategy. Many species like wrens and swallows love to eat caterpillars and aphids, while sparrows enjoy seeds that contribute to keeping weeds at bay. If you’re experiencing problems with rodents and live in an area with a thriving native owl population, invite them to take up residence in your garden with a Barn Owl Nest. Both birds and bats of course love water, so adding a pond or other water source like a bird bath is an easy way to make them feel welcome in your garden.
Intercropping Is Your Garden’s Best Friend
One of the easiest, least detrimental means by which to protect any garden is to encourage a healthy mix of flowers and herbs around your vegetables and fruits. This naturally strengthens their resistance to certain pests and disease while also improving yields, and is commonly known as intercropping.
Intercropping has been practiced since ancient times and one key to the technique is pairing ideal companion plants. In tandem, certain varieties of plants are capable of both attracting beneficial insects while also confusing and repelling pests from their intended host plants. As an example, when inter-planted with cabbage, onions and cucumbers, dill can simultaneously attract hoverflies and wasps while repelling cabbage looper and aphids. Likewise, alliums like garlic and leeks make an ideal companion plant to carrots by deterring destructive onion and carrot root flies. Other popular varieties with deterrent properties include geraniums (Japanese beetles), chives (aphids), mint (ants and mice), chervil and radish (which serve as effective trap crops to protect nearby vegetables from slugs and beetles).
Larger invasive pests like deer stay away from eating foliage that is hairy or fuzzy (Siberian bugloss, lambs ear, poppies) and, understandably, also prickly or fibrous (look to iris, globe thistle and peonies, just to name a few). Deer also dislike heavily-scented plant life, making most herbs (including sage, lavender, rosemary and oregano) perfect companion plants for a successful garden. If deer and rabbits are being especially persistent and your garden has room to spare, consider growing some of their favourite fare like alfalfa, clover and lettuce as sacrificial crops set well away from your intended, protected plants.
Barriers & Bluffing
take things even more on the offensive, look into a few smart equipment upgrades for your garden. Humane insect catchers and traps that require little to no installation are widely available, while exclusion nets like mesh bags, floating row covers and specially made vegetable patch nets can prove invaluable in protecting young seedlings and keeping at bay insects, birds and deer alike.
For unwanted, large birds like crows, there’s nothing wrong with time-tested decoys like the common scarecrow, or they may also be repelled with bright reflections bouncing off mirrored surfaces. Foil strips or a handful of old CD’s hanging from a string over your vegetable patch (trust us, it really works!) make an easy, affordable fix, or how about a Mirror Globe Shaped ‘Garden Guardian’ that is both decorative and effective? For persistent squirrels and groundhogs, you may like to employ motion activated lights and sprinklers or set a sprinkler timer to assist in scaring off nocturnal pest animals.
The fact is that for larger, persistent pests like rodents, raccoons and deer, you may need to employ more innovative tactics. Predator urine is a naturally occurring repellent widely available from most gardening supply stores, while a simple, make-at-home cayenne pepper spray (mix one part dried or ground pepper with a few drops of organic soap and four parts water) can also keep unwanted visitors at bay. Below-ground burrowers like rabbits, woodchucks and gophers can be discouraged by encircling your cherished plants with wire mesh that has been buried several inches below the ground.
When all else fails, you may need to consider constructing fencing that is high enough to detract deer from invading your garden. Stockade fences that obscure visibility tend to work best with deer, as does height –deer are capable of jumping an eight foot fence! Rock walls are a popular solution given hooved animals don’t like navigating over irregular shaped rocks, but if physical barriers aren’t viable (check with your local municipality for rules before constructing any permanent fencing), organic fencing may be your next best bet. Deer tend to stay away from several varieties of ornamental grasses they find indigestible.
At the end of the day, establishing the right floral architecture to maintain the optimum biodiversity of your garden will take a little research and experimentation, but in the long run it’s surely worth it. Just a little research, careful curation and thoughtfully-placed equipment will ensure maximum success and long-term sustainability- so grab those gardening essentials and let’s dig in!