Natural Pest Defense

By Sue Odland

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As the heat of the summer intensifies, garden pests do too. Instead of choosing chemical pesticides to eliminate unwanted visitors in your newly planted garden, employ the wisdom of Mother Nature to provide effective natural pest control. These proven methods are simple, inexpensive and safe for your family and wildlife. Using a combination of the following strategies will provide your garden with well-rounded protection this season.
 
Companion Planting – Friends with Benefits:
Planting vegetables that complement each other together produces healthier plants, better yields and a strong defense against garden bugs and pests. However, some plants do not grow  well with others. Always review a companion planting chart or reference list before planting to ensure the matching of friends not foes. Search on-line for a companion planting vegetable guide to find easy reference charts and recommendations. A few examples of friendly companion pairings include: 
 
Beans with potatoes – bush beans and potatoes planted in alternating rows will protect one another from the potato beetle and Mexican bean beetle. 
 
Carrots with Leeks – the strongly scented leek repels bothersome carrot flies. 
 
Dill with cabbage or cucumbers – the dill improves flavor and repels pests. 
 
Onions and garlic with tomatoes, broccoli, peppers, cucumbers, spinach or strawberries – the strong scents repels bugs and animals. However, do not plant onions and garlic with beans, peas, sage or asparagus, as the onions and garlic will inhibit the other plants’ growth. 
 
Spinach with Radishes – radishes lure pesky leaf miners away from spinach. The miners feast on the radish leaves, yet do not damage the radishes growing below the surface. 
 
Tomato with Basil – increases yield and enhances flavor.
 
Flowering Defense 
The addition of certain beneficial flowers to the garden will create an attractive garden defense. The blooms will also supply vital nutrition for bees, butterflies and local wildlife. Proven varieties include:
 
Marigold – the flower’s strong scent repels many destructive garden insects and pests. Circle the garden with the brightly colored plants or place them throughout the rows of vegetation.
 
Chrysanthemum – the flower head of the chrysanthemum plant holds pyrethrum, which is the main ingredient used in many commercial insecticides. This natural agent repels pests including the voracious Japanese beetle which devours over 300 varieties of plants.
 
Lavender – repels fleas, moths and white flies. It’s an all-purpose addition to any garden.
 
Nasturtium – a delicate, spicy edible flower, nasturtiums provide cucumbers and tomatoes with protection from cucumber beetles, aphids, whiteflies and squash bugs, while attracting beneficial beetles. 
 
Petunia – repels asparagus beetles, leafhoppers, aphids, tomato hornworms and other damaging insects.
 
The Buzz
Beneficial Insects are an excellent form of organic pest control. These tiny garden protectors search and eliminate bugs from your flowers and vegetables. They can be purchased at local garden and feed stores or ordered on-line. Using beneficial insects offers both adults and children hands-on experience with the natural cycles of life. To learn more about these remarkable garden defenders, explore www.planetnatural.com or www.gardeninsects.com. Popular species of beneficial insects include:
 
Ladybugs – these adorable garden visitors are extremely efficient at controlling aphids (tiny white flies that attack tomatoes). Purchase them in bulk. Release them into your garden in early evening to allow time for them to find food and water. As ladybugs require water when first released; sprinkle water over the chosen area before you set them free.  They will receive future moisture from the numerous aphids they will consume. 
 
 
Praying Mantis – this carnivorous insect reduces bug populations naturally and helps maintain a healthy ecological balance in the garden. Purchase the praying mantises as eggs; place in garden or around the yard. The eggs will hatch after 4-6 weeks of warm weather producing hundreds of small protectors ready to patrol the garden.
 
Beneficial Nematodes – these tiny microscopic roundworms can destroy over 200 species of harmful insects including caterpillars, grubs, Japanese beetles and other unwelcome in-ground insects. Add beneficial nematodes to the garden by mixing them with water, then spray or sprinkle them onto areas with noticeable or suspected insect infestation.  Apply the nematodes in the evening when temperatures are cooler.  
 
DIY Tricks and Tips:
Use these simple ideas as needed to deter garden pests:
 
Squirrels – Add an artificial owl near your tomatoes to protect ripening fruits from squirrels. The owl is a natural predator of squirrels, rabbits and other small animals.
 
Rabbits – Place a few rubber snakes or an old hose around the garden to mimic a snake to keep rabbits from visiting. They will avoid the sight of this natural predator.
 
Birds – Protect ripe berries from birds by placing floating row covers over the plants and bushes. Comprised of sheer, light-weight fabric, these covers are inexpensive and effective in keeping insects and birds out, while keeping moisture and heat in. 
 
Slugs – There are numerous natural methods to eliminate this notorious garden pest including; beer traps, seaweed mulch, copper borders and protective aluminum foil shields. Search for natural slug control on-line to learn more about these easy DIY techniques.
 
Flying insects – Make a simple insecticidal soap to eliminate aphids and other soft bodied insects from your garden and household plants. Add 2tbsp. of dishwashing soap to 1 gallon of water. Pour into a spray bottle; spray plant, soaking both sides of the leaf and stem. Wait 2-3 days, repeat as needed. 
 
Simple, safe, natural pest control solutions abound for home gardeners seeking earth-friendly alternatives for repelling pests. Bring peace to your garden this season by sending pesticides out and bringing Mother Nature in.
 
Sue Odland is a free-lance writer and avid midwestern gardener.