Spring is a season for beautiful flowers, lush fruits and delicious vegetables - all fresh from the garden. But, spring is also a season for insects and other pests that want to invade your garden.
Sustainable pest control is imperative for a sustainable garden. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, pesticides and herbicides are detrimental to public health and the environment in a variety of ways. The chemicals in pesticides and herbicides have been associated with a myriad of health issues including eye and skin irritation, neurological disorders, fertility concerns, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. Pesticides can also create nutrient deficiencies that impede plant growth and crop yield.
Fortunately, you can assist Mother Nature with natural pest control options.
Companion plantings can protect the residents of your garden as well as enhance the growth and flavor of your fruits, vegetables and flowers.
Companion plantings can serve a variety of purposes.
Some companion plantings repel insects. For instance, garlic can repel aphids from roses. Petunias and geraniums can repel Japanese beetles. Common herbs such as catnip, lemon balm, lemongrass, sage, basil, thyme and many varieties of mint can repel beetles, moths, fleas and aphids.
Other companion plantings serve as trap crops which lure insects away from primary crops to prevent irreparable decimation. When planted around cabbage, nasturtium flowers trap caterpillars and aphids that would otherwise feed on the cabbage and thus protect the food crop from damage. Alfalfa planted with cotton and strawberries lure harmful lygus bugs. Nettles attract aphids. Dill ensnares tomato horn worms while sunflowers and soybeans are effective baits for stink bugs. French marigolds and chervil attract slugs that destroy the leaves on numerous plants.
For a successful companion planting experience, identify the invasive insect and choose companion plants based on the insect’s aversions and preferences. Install companion plants in advance of pest invasions either around the perimeter of the main crop bed or in rows, alternating a row of the repellent or trap crop with a row of the main crop. For repellent crops, sow plants until the harvest is complete. For trap crops, sow plants until they are teeming with pests, then establish a subsequent crop and continue to sow the trap crop until the harvest is complete.
Essential oils can discourage pests as well. Some varieties contain a compound called eugenol that acts as an insecticide against common garden nuisances. Oils of clove, cinnamon and nutmeg all contain eugenol. The limonene in citrus oils deters silverfish, fleas, black ants, fire ants and roaches. Neem oil is reputed to repel over 200 species of insects because it discourages feeding and inhibits larvae growth. Neem is also effective against fungus and powdery mildew. Peppermint oil can repel mice. Eucalyptus oil discourages aphids and flies. To apply essential oils, add ten drops of the oil of your choice to a pint of water in a bottle and spray the solution around plants. Use pure, food grade essential oils for the best results. Do not apply essential oils in areas where cats or birds are present.
Beneficial insects, amphibians, mammals and reptiles can hinder pests so allow lady beetles, praying mantises, lacewings, non-venomous spiders, frogs, bats and lizards in the garden to hunt and eradicate bothersome creatures. Pollinators such as bees, butterflies and hummingbirds should be welcomed in the garden, too. To attract beneficial insects, plant flowers such as alyssum, yarrow, sunflower, cosmos, Queen Anne’s lace, Aster and Black Eyed Susan.
Do you often find inexplicable holes in the leaves of your plants? Are they also accompanied by fine trails of silver threads? If so, you probably have a slug infestation. Place copper tape or wire around the edges of containers or garden beds to act as an effective slug repellent. For a cheap and useful slug deterrent, glue pennies onto a bowling ball and place it in the garden where slugs feast. Place saucers of beer around your beds and pots to attract and trap slugs. Slugs will also avoid garden spaces treated with coffee grounds or crushed eggshells. If you find live slugs in the garden, you can sprinkle salt over them to eliminate them.
Oils of citronella, lemongrass, lemon, peppermint and eucalyptus can be effective mosquito repellents. Place a few drops of the oil of your choice into an oil diffuser and burn it while you are in the garden to keep these annoying pests at bay. Mosquitoes have an aversion to the scents of these oils. Mosquitoes are also repelled by marigold, ageratum, geranium, rosemary and catnip when they are planted in the garden.
You can create an easy, chemical-free mosquito trap with a plastic bottle and a simple yeast and sugar solution. The instructions and the recipe are available at sustainablefortbragg.com.
Recipe for aphid repellent
One half gallon of water
One teaspoon of dish soap
Tea tree essential oil
Two tablespoons of vegetable oil
Combine the water and dish soap in a bucket. Mix well. Then, add ten drops of tea tree essential oil and vegetable oil. Again, mix well. Transfer the solution to a spray bottle and apply it to the undersides of leaves affected by aphids.
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