Organic gardening takes the natural approach to controlling the damage that insects and other pests can do to your plants. Here are seven ways you can help your organic garden defend itself.
1. The Best Defense is a Good Offense
Healthy plants are disposed to take care of themselves. Evolution has given them the means to defend against most natural pests – but they can only do that if they are healthy and thriving. Be sure your plants are getting the nutrients they need from healthy soil that is weed-free. In many cases, it’s not your plants that unwanted pests crave: it’s the weeds or debris in your garden drawing them.
If you see weak or pest-damaged plants, consider being proactive and get rid of them. As in nature, a weak creature attracts predators. Try, also, to water the soil and not the plants. Insect damage and fungus outbreaks are the price you may pay if you don’t keep foliage dry.
2. Release the Nematodes!
Yes, root-knot nematodes are bad news for a garden. But beneficial nematodes can be your best defense against pests. These microscopic parasites living in the soil carry a bacteria that is lethal to many insects – and while nematodes probably are already hanging out in your organic garden, it may not be in a concentration needed to form sufficient natural pest control.
You’ll find your nematode friends at a neighborhood garden center, or you can order them online. Follow the instructions to prepare them for introduction to your garden soil. The nematode defense can help you with controlling grubs, cutworms and root maggots, as well as borers that will attack your vine vegetables. Growing corn? Nematodes are a great defense against earworms and armyworms.
3. Make Your Garden Smell Bad (to Pests, Anyway…)
If you’ve got issues with rodents, large insects or other animals munching on your organic garden, a good way to reduce or eliminate their visits is to introduce repelling odors. The best part? They smell great to most humans!
If you have a rodent or rabbit problem, visit a health food store and purchase oil of peppermint. Apply it to cotton balls and place them in your garden.
Other “odorific” efforts include using companion plants in as repellants your garden. Chrysanthemums, garlic and onions are general defense plants that are effective at keeping most insects away from the area where they’re planted. Plant basil near your tomatoes to repel tomato-specific pests. Rosemary will keep cats and mosquitoes at bay. Catnip may invite cats – but if that’s not a problem for you, catnip is effective at repelling ants and roaches. Lavender will fight back against fleas, moths and mosquitoes.
4. Spray Your Troubles Away
Insecticidal soap and oil sprays are easy to apply – and in the case of the soap (which can do double-duty as a herbicide), you can make it yourself with ingredients you’ll already have on hand. Both applications work directly on the pests, either suffocating them or dissolving their protective cuticle.
Avoid hot days when applying either the soap or oil sprays, and limit the spraying to small areas so you don’t cause any potential harm to beneficial insects or surrounding plants. Both of these organic pest control methods are highly effective for combating aphids, whiteflies and mites.
5. Stick It to Them
Sticky traps – you can buy them or make them – use color to attract pests, and they get stuck to the trap after landing on it. They’re most effective when you hang them close to the plants being infested.
Yellow sticky traps attract winged aphids, whiteflies, psyllids, winged scales, thrips, leafhoppers, leafminers, fungus gnats, mealybugs, and midges. White traps attract flea beetles, whiteflies, and cucumber beetles. Blue traps attract flower thrips; while red traps attract the flies which lay eggs that hatch into apple maggots.
If you decide to make your own sticky traps, the best material to use are four-inch by six-inch rectangles of Tangle-Trap.
6. Cover Your Plants
Floating row covers use a lightweight polyester material to create a barrier between your plants and pests. It allows air and water to get through – as well as up to 85 percent of sunlight – but is fine enough to prevent insects from penetrating. The material is sold in rolls, and you can cut it to size. It’s draped over metal hoops supported by wooden frames. If you forego the hoops and frames, be sure to bury the edges of the material so pests can’t fly underneath.
7. A Shower a Day Keeps the Deer Away
If deer are helping themselves to the fruit in vegetables in your garden, mix one tablespoon of liquid dish detergent and one tablespoon of hot sauce with a liter of water, and spray it on the threatened plants. Or, hang a bar of fragrant soap near the plants deer like to eat. The fragrance of the soap will repel the deer.