Did insect pests get the best of you and your garden last year? Were you witness to over night attacks on your veggie crop? Are you a bit worried that this year might bring a repeat performance? Never fear! Here are 10 timely tips from our friends at the Rodale Institute and the Editors at Rodale Gardening Books.
1. Mix Your Signals
A confusing mix of sights and scents can help deter certain insect pests. So try to increase biodiversity and avoid monoculture by mixing plants from different families. Instead of growing 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 vegetables beds with low-growing annual flowers, such as alyssum and dwarf marigolds.
2. Attract an airborne defense squad.
One of the best ways to short-circuit an onslaught of pests is to attract an airborne cavalry charge of beneficial insects. Many beneficials including the small wasps that prey on pest caterpillars – will gratefully take advantage of the flat-topped floral landing platforms offered by members of the umbel family, which includes dill, Queen Anne’s-lace, parsley and carrots. (You have to allow the parsley and carrot plants to overwinter and grow into their second year to get those umbrella-shaped flowers that beneficials find so attractive). Other plants beloved by beneficials include sweet alyssum, all kinds of mints, and chamomile.
3. Negate Nematodes
Marigolds can greatly reduce the damage caused by root-ravaging nematodes – those tiny soil-dwelling wormlike pests – but only if you use them correctly. For the best effect, grow a thick stand of marigolds as a cover crop for a season, then turn them under the soil. The next year, plant whatever you like in that area – nematodes won’t be around to cause trouble underground.
4. Grow your own decoy (#1)
Try allowing a single weed to grow as a decoy among your cultivated crops. Decoy crops may attract pests and help to keep the bad guys away from your other crops. Striped blister beetle, for instance, seem to prefer red root pigweed to tomato plants growing nearby. To keep the insects from moving to your tomatoes, check the pigweed each morning and shake off any beetles into a bucket of soapy water.
5. Grow your own decoy (#2)
You can trap flea beetles in a similar manner using arugula, the spicy salad green. Pesky flea beetles — a voracious pest of eggplant, brassicas and potatoes – will flock to the arugula first. Use a handheld vacuum to suck the beetles off the decoy plants before they can make their way to your main crops. You may have to repeat the vacuum cleaner escapade a few times each season to keep ahead to the invading flea beetle army.
6. Grow your own decoy (#3)
Knowing that aphids are attracted to all things yellow, the staff of Ecology Action in Willits, California, have learned to plant yellow nasturtiums at the base of the tomato plants. Monitor the nasturtiums closely, they urge. After the flowers have drawn in the aphids – and before the aphids reproduce – pull out the decoy plants and destroy their load of insects.
7. Set up traps!
Earwigs, sow bugs, pill bugs, slugs, and snails all have one things in common: They like to hide out in damp, shady places during the heat of the day. To take advantage of this trait, lure them with attractive ‘trap nests’ – boards, pieces of paper, seashells, broken crockery, etc. Get out early every morning to check each lure, then dump the trapped critters into a bucket of soapy water.
8. Pull back the Mulch
Organic mulches such as straw and leaves prevent weeds, maintain soil moisture, and improve soil quality. Unfortunately, under certain conditions they also can 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 2 inches away from the stems and stalks of transplants and young seedlings.
9. Pull up those covers.
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, squash bugs, and cabbage maggots, row covers speed crop growth by trapping a blanket of warm air around new seedlings and established plants.
10. Take out the apples and the trash.
Cleaning up your garden debris may not be the flashiest method of controlling pests, but it is certainly one of the most effective and, by far, the easiest. By allowing insect larvae to overwinter in your garden and orchard, you are locking yourself into a cycle of repeated infestation. To break the cycle promptly clean up all faded flowers, spent crops, and fallen end of the season stuffs.