A pest-free garden is something we all want, but is it really possible? Having the perfect urban landscape may cost you an important amount of money (it depends on what pesticides you’re using and the surface you need to take care of), not to mention the risk they pose for your health.
The alternative ways to get in control over the pests is appealing to many homeowners out there and there are plenty of biological processes that are successful, without damaging the natural balance of your garden.
How does a conventional method look like?
You know that your garden looks great if every single plant looks vigorous and protected by the pests in a natural way.
A conventional approach may give amazing results (without even having you to empty your pockets. For instance, ant’s removal is somewhere between $50 and $300, depending on how bad the situation is). You may apply some pesticides on a regular basis, or the minute you notice them. But the pesticides may not be the best solution for your garden, especially if you have pets.
However, keeping in mind that the efficiency is pretty impressive, you may consider it while finding ways to protect the environment and the water supplies at the same time.
How does the alternative approach work?
You’re going to have to do due diligence when it comes to the alternative so here are some steps that you’re going to need to take for best results:
- Do your research and get all the info you need about plants and their pests
- Rotate the annual garden plants so that you minimize the risk for building up pests
- Try to plant garden plants that present a higher resistance to pests
- Check your plants on regular basis. Look for the pests and the beneficial organisms as well.
- Use methods that don’t disturb the natural balance and don’t harm the environment
- Are you sure you need to use control methods for your garden?
- Keep track of your observations and the results you get so that you know what to do next time.
What are the alternative methods?
There are several ways to control pests in your garden so you should get all the info you need before taking action:
- The cultural pest control methods
These methods are trying to provide the best growing conditions for plants and natural predators, but unfriendly conditions for pests.
Here are some things that you can do for this method to work:
- Develop a healthy watering process: water as needed and don’t forget to turn off the automatic sprinkler systems after a rain or during the cloudy days
- Plant hardy strains of turf and native grasses. Buffalo grass, wheatgrass and blue grama are better options than Kentucky bluegrass.
- Keep the mowing height no less than 2 ½ inches to 3inches. You want to keep the clippings on the lawn so that the nutrients get recycled.
- Fertilize the lawn only when you have to. Run a soil test to see what nutrients your lawn really needs.
- Remember to core aerate your lawn once or twice a year
- Use beds, mulch and groundcovers and not grass in the most challenging areas (the shady spots or the sloped ground).
- The chemical pest control methods
There are plenty of naturally occurring chemicals that work as pesticides, but they still fall in the category of “organic gardening”. Typically, the compounds are less harmful to beneficial insects, and they do break down faster than the synthetic type.
Botanical pesticides, microbial insecticides, mineral-based pesticides and synthetic organic compounds (detergents, oils and soaps) are pesticides with lower risk. You may find them in garden stores, but you do need to ask them specifically.
These products are known as pesticides, so do you need to be careful when using them. The best way to use them is to include them in a program that uses various cultural, mechanical and biological control methods. Naturally occurring chemicals may be toxic too and some are even more toxic to humans than the synthetic ones. Make sure you read the label instructions before using this type of pesticides. If not used right, they may harm the plants or the animals around.
- The mechanical pest control methods
Mechanical pest management choices include the physical methods used for destroying pests. Here are some of them:
- Hand weeding
- Hosing down the plants to get rid of the insects
- Hand-picking the insects off plants
- Using a tiller or a hoe
- Pruning the insect-infested/diseased woody plants
- Using mulches to minimize erosion and weeds, in order to preserve moisture
- Biological pest control methods
There are beneficial organisms (insects or fungi) that may help you control pests in a natural way. You can go with predators (lady beetles, damsel bugs, green lacewings, minute pirate bug, spiders, predatory mites and ground beetles) or with larger animals (birds, frogs or garden snakes).
Some rules to keep in mind when managing your garden
If you’re planning to take care of the garden on your own, there are some things to take under consideration:
- Make sure you plant the right plants for the soil conditions
- It’s better to select well-adapted plant varieties that handle diseases pretty well
- Use healthy and pest-free transplants
- Add organic amendments for improving the quality of the soil. You should also evaluate the soil’s fertility and type. You may order soil testing kits online
- Try to stay away from under/over watering as they both make the plants vulnerable to diseases and insects
- Remember to eliminate the infested plant residue from your garden when fall is coming. You don’t want to leave it over-winter.
- It’s also a good thing to change the placement of annual plants every year for disrupting the life cycle of pests
- Use a nice selection of plants so that you lower the risk for developing pest problems in the first place. It’s better to create a diverse habitat for the beneficial insects
- Debris, wood, and rocks are great places for the slugs or damaging insects to hide so make sure your garden is clean.
Don’t forget about the plants that attract beneficial insects
There are plenty of beneficial insects that are great for keeping your garden nice and healthy so here are some suggestions of plants that are going to make them love your garden even more:
- Plants from the carrot family: dill and parsley
- Queen Anne’s lace (the wild carrot) which works as a nectar plant for the parasitic wasps
- Vegetables from the cabbage family: mustard, broccoli and radishes
- Cosmos, beebalm, aster, Asclepias, purple cornflower, cleome, Russian sage- they all attract bees and butterflies.
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