There are so many benefits to planting your garden beyond the satisfaction you get from your work and the food you produce. Gardening can be a mindful and enriching experience. But how do you avoid the crop-destroying pests?

    Beneficial Bugs

    Plenty of wildlife are willing to work for free, the trick is getting them to do it. Birds, toads, spiders, centipedes, mantids, ladybugs and green lacewings, and other carnivorous animals will feed on many of the destructive pests

    Wasps: Pesky or Beneficial?

    wasp parasitizing a gypsy moth caterpillar. USDA photo by Scott Bauer.

    Wasps and yellow jackets are carnivorous and like the arthropods that cause you grief. If there are wasps nested nearby, chances are they’re eating the pests you didn’t want in the first place. Wasps and hornets don’t typically become a problem for homeowners until late summer and throughout the fall, which is when the workers start to die and look for a home for the nesting queen.

    Attract Birds

    Birds may peck at fruit and vegetables now and again, and you may not want certain kinds of birds around. But it helps to hang some bird feeders around your garden to encourage them to swoop down and snack on the pests in the garden as well. Grackles, meadowlarks, geese, ducks, chickens, crows, and gulls will feed on Japanese beetles.

    Ladybugs and Toads

    If you have ladybug larvae in your garden, you won’t see many aphids. Ladybugs also prey on scale and other garden pests.

    Consider setting a toad house near the garden to attract toads.  They’re great at ridding the yard of bugs. 

    Prepare Your Garden to Fight Back

    Chickens help tidy up this garden. Credit: Irene Kightley, CC by SA 2.0.

    Healthy soil means healthy plants. Pests are less likely to prey on your vegetables and plants if you keep the plants healthy. Most pests specialize in one kind of plant or another. So, if you rotate your crops yearly, you’ll avoid recurring issues with the same pest.

    Remove dying or pest ridden plants to prevent damage to neighboring plants. Crop rotation can also return nutrients to the soil that other plants absorb during growth.

    Mulch Your Garden

    Mulching is an excellent way to maintain plant growth year to year. Seaweed spray or mulch, in particular, will add beneficial nutrients to the soil and help keep slugs and snails away.

    If mulching is not done properly, it can attract more pests than it deters. Be sure to use mulch that is safe for vegetable gardens. Some commercial mulch contains added chemicals or scrap wood that are safe for borders, but not for vegetable gardens.

    Excellent Mulch Material:

    • Straw – The stalks of grain plants like wheat and barley provide an excellent top layer for your garden. Reduce the likelihood of sprouting seeds by using the straw as bedding for waterfowl, like geese and ducks. They’ll eat the seeds. 
    • Wood chips – Prevents weeds and holds moisture in the soil.
    • Grass – If you’re in the habit of bagging your grass and discarding it, stop! Your best course of action is to let the grass clippings fall to the ground. Grass is an excellent lawn fertilizer. If you have an abundance of grass clippings, then it’s OK to reattach the bagger to your lawn mower. But don’t discard the clippings — they’re great for mulching the garden, too.

    Anti-Pest Planting and Gardening Strategies

    Every plant should have enough room to breathe. If the plants are too close together, they could smother each other or create too much shade, which give pests a place to nest.

    Water in the Morning

    Water in the morning so the plant leaves dry out early in the day. Better yet, put in a drip irrigation system. If you water in the midday or afternoon heat, the water evaporates too quickly. Too late in the day, and the moisture lingers and invites pests.

    Use Interplanting Strategies

    Most pests specialize in one kind of plant. If you spread the plants throughout your garden, you can reduce the risk of losing them all. Practice companion planting, so the plants work together to fight pests and disease.

    Pest Extermination Options

    You can add diatomaceous earth around your plants to keep most insects from invading. Diatomaceous earth is a natural, eco-friendly, safe substance that abrades away the waxy cuticle around the bugs’ exoskeleton. The pests dehydrate and die.

    You can spray insecticidal soap on your plants to get rid of spider mites. Make sure to get the underside of leaves, where the pest hide.

    Look to Professionals

    If you’ve got a major problem, don’t be afraid to hire a professional pest control service. Sometimes, an infestation is too big to handle yourself.  Follow the Environmental Protection Agency’s guidelines for choosing a pest control company.

    When considering pesticides and their effects, remember that it’s not 1972.  Improvements to pest deterrents and eco-friendly products are available. There are plenty of safe and reliable options available to you.

    Ben Bowen is a content writer for Fox Pest Control in Lubbock, Texas. Ben’s hobbies include novel writing, listening to audiobooks, practicing penmanship, and playing with his nieces and nephews.