By Linda Ly
It’s all too easy to solve a plant dilemma in your garden by reaching for one of the many synthetic sprays and pellets available in your garden center. One promises to rid the garden of critters, while another claims to kill damaging cutworms and caterpillars.
But many of these store-bought solutions can sometimes do more harm than good to your pollinators and other beneficial insects. And if you have an edible garden, what’s the point of growing your own food if it requires repeated application of a potent pesticide?
Luckily, there are a few ways to combat common pest problems without resorting to toxic measures. If you spot holes in your leaves or digging in your mulch, try these natural remedies first.
These tiny, soft-bodied, sap-sucking insects appear in colonies on the undersides of leaves and often on distressed plants (due to overwatering, underwatering or poor growing conditions). If you catch the infestation early, a simple solution is to blast the aphids with the strong jet setting of your cleaning nozzle. You may need to do so repeatedly, each day, until all signs of aphids have disappeared from the leaves.
Slugs and Snails
Who knew you could bait destructive slugs and snails with a little beer? They are attracted to the yeast in beer, so to bait them, set up a beer trap by placing a shallow pan filled with beer near areas with evidence of slug and snail damage. At night, they’ll stretch for the beer, fall in and drown. Remove the perished slugs and snails, and replenish the beer trap every few days.
Leaf-eating caterpillars, including hornworms and cabbage worms, can quickly decimate an entire vegetable garden and must be controlled when they’re young (and before they prepare for the pupae stage). If you have new plantings, lay floating row covers over the garden as a preventative measure. Floating row covers allow sunlight and water to reach the plants but effectively keep caterpillars out; since they only skim the tops of the plants, they won’t hinder growth. If you spot any caterpillars on your plants, hand-pick them and destroy them immediately.
Earwig damage closely resembles that caused by slugs, snails and caterpillars, so to discern among these pests, inspect your plants at night when earwigs are actively feeding. They are attracted to light so they’re easy to spot. During the day, earwigs like to hide in dark, cool, moist areas, so remove any garden debris that may accumulate outside your garden and around your home perimeter. Sprinkle a fine layer of food-grade diatomaceous earth (not the diatomaceous earth sold for swimming pools) along areas where earwigs tend to travel, including your garden beds. Reapply the diatomaceous earth after heavy irrigation or rain.
Raccoons, Possums, and Skunks
If nocturnal critters are your main concern, the best defense is to keep them from coming in to your garden bed at all. Protect your plants by installing plastic, wire or wooden garden fencing, hardware cloth or mesh around the perimeter of your bed. This barrier method prevents animals like raccoons, possums and skunks from digging up your soil (often searching for grubs), while still allowing you to water, fertilize and harvest your plants.
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