FlickrCC/John Fowler Credits: FlickrCC/John Fowler
Every green thumb in Canada imagines a glorious world of gardening where pests don't pester and dogs don't dig. Plants flourish because nothing is eating them -- and not because they have been sprayed with harmful pesticides, which are not only dangerous to the pests they target, but detrimental to human health as well. A balanced, healthy garden is achievable without commercial chemicals -- we just have to dig a little deeper for the solutions to common pest problems.
Lynn Bishop, project manager at Everdale Organic Farm and Learning Centre in Hillsburgh, Ont., offers a few tips on how to organically pest-proof any garden. Each solution is not only environmentally friendly, but easy on the wallet, too.
1. Keep friendly plants together
Bishop suggests "lots of garlic" to make companion planting work. The strong scent will prevent some insects from finding their favourite host plants. This also works with onions -- but be careful not to completely overpower your garden, because this can deter helpful insects too.
2. Rotate your crops
If you group related veggies in different garden beds or sections of your garden, you can rotate them each year to avoid attacks by disease and insects. For example, beans and peas should live together, while cantaloupe, cucumbers, pumpkins, squash and watermelon are a separate family. Moving these groups from place to place makes it harder for pests to find them one year after another.
3. Use beneficial insects
Most bugs are a gardener's ally, not enemy. Ladybugs, spiders, praying mantis, ground beetles and wasps all eat insects that destroy plants. To attract spiders, apply a thin layer of mulch in the spring. This will offer them the cool environment they like, so they will stick around and eat the aphids and other pests in your garden. Planting herbs, flowers and clovers around the borders of a vegetable garden also helps attract a wider variety of insects.
4. Guard plants with fences
While they may not be attractive barriers, fences are the surest way to keep dogs, cats, deer, groundhogs and other large animals out of gardens. For deer, encircle plants with six-foot-tall (1.8 m) cages that reach several feet beyond the tips of the farthest branches.
5. Fool slugs
Trick these hungry invaders into environmentally friendly traps. "You can use the old beer-in-a-yellow-bowl trick," says Bishop. Simply pour about an inch of beer into an open plastic container placed in the ground and slugs will make their way to the edge and fall in. Dump the deceased on your compost heap and refresh the beverage about every three days.
6. Spice up your garden
To deter digging dogs, mix together a fiery potion. Try combining a clove of garlic, some onion, Tabasco sauce and cayenne pepper in a bucket of water, then after allowing it to steep, dribble it over soil where dogs aren't welcome. (Substitute the garlic and onion for powdered mustard and flour to deter cats.) Tabasco sauce, chili powder and cayenne pepper will also get stuck to the small feet of squirrels and mice, frustrating them so much they won't dig up your bulbs. Similarly, a spicy liquid spray of garlic and hot pepper will shoo away flea beetles.
7. Use vinegar on the side
Spraying vinegar at the base of trees, fountains and walls helps keep cats away and neutralizes the odour left behind by tomcats. It can also be placed in a jar to create a trap for fungus gnats and has such a strong scent that it can mask the appealing aroma of dinner, so pests won't feast on your garden. Just be careful not to douse plants with highly acidic vinegar because it can burn and kill them.
8. Keep rabbits running
Statues or inflatable likenesses of snakes, owls or hawks will scare rabbits away from gardens as long as they are moved frequently. To block bunnies from individual plants, use plastic tree guards or mesh.
9. Incorporate some citrus scents
A citrus aroma on a warm summer breeze is refreshing for humans, but repulsive to cats. The scent can make them sneeze and cower, so toss a few orange, lemon or grapefruit peels in the garden to deter the neighbourhood kitties. On a smaller scale, pesky insects like aphids go into convulsions if you douse them with citrus oil extract, which you can make by mixing the grated rind from a lemon with water.
10. Protect your soil
An essential component of a balanced garden ecosystem is good-quality soil. "Healthy soil equals healthy plants," says Bishop. Importing earthworms feeds the soil and promotes healthy plant growth. Destructive insects are less likely to take over if everything else is in check.
Plan your garden with our springtime guide!