Print this page

Managing Garden Pests

Dealing with insect pests in the garden is a fact of life, but it is possible to prevent damage without resorting to extreme measures. Completely eliminating unwanted bugs is impossible and our efforts usually cause more harm than good. It's better for us to think management rather than annihilation. This approach is good for the garden and takes the pressure off the gardener to win an unwinnable battle.

Successful pest control is achievable with good cultural practices and a few low-impact measures. This isn't a new concept; it's called Integrated Pest Management or IPM and it's been around since the 1950s. Farmers developed IPM as a way to counter the side effects of the heavy pesticide applications popular after WWII. Pesticide resistance, elimination of natural predators and pest resurgence were just a few of the negative results. It turned out that chemicals alone were no longer effective. Farmer's needed to partner with Mother Nature to combat problems.

So how do we use IPM in our gardens? It's pretty simple—place plants in the right environment, monitor insect populations and apply the control method that best fits the situation.

Plant the Right Plants in the Right Environment

Healthy, happy plants are less susceptible to pests and disease. Make sure the plants you select are suited to the light, soil and moisture conditions in your garden. For instance, you wouldn't plant shade-loving ferns in a hot, dry place or herbs that like arid conditions in soggy soil.

Observe and ID

Keep an eye out for insects and insect damage. Early detection allows you to get ahead of the problem with simple, earth-friendly measures. Try to indentify the bug first. This will help you determine the best treatment plan as well as ensure you aren't eliminating beneficial insects.

Chemical Free

Integrated Pest Management Once you've identified your pest, there are a few things you can do that don't require chemicals. If possible, try to remove as many insects as you can by hand. Take your kids on a tomato horn worm hunt; you can blast aphids off roses with a hard spray of water; or make a slug trap with a low, open dish of beer.

You can also introduce some beneficial insects to your garden. You'll find that lady bugs love the taste of aphids.

Plant companion plants that will repel insects or plant trap plants that will draw insects away. The fragrance of basil shoos many bugs off and Japanese beetles will flock to four o'clocks even though the plant is poisonous to them.

Low-Impact Chemicals

If you find that pests are still hanging around, earth-friendly products are your next step. Insecticidal soap, neem oil, pyrethrum and diatomaceous earth are all environmentally friendly and effective. Just remember that even though these products are earth-wise, application should be limited to the areas where the problem exists.