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Controlling Those Pesky Garden Pests (Naturally!): Do”s and Don”t”s

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squirrelBy Lisa Reeves

For many Southerners, early spring means preparing soil and planting a garden.# Whether your garden extends over several acres or consists of a pot of basil and a hanging basket of petunias on a deck, you”re likely aware of the need to protect your plants from pests like aphids, caterpillars, Japanese beetles or spittle bugs, not to mention powdery mildew and other fungus diseases.# While deer and rabbits can wreak quick destruction by uprooting or eating whole gardens down to a nub, the slower rate of damage caused by insects and fungus is no less devastating.

If you”re interested in controlling garden pests without toxic chemicals, you have several options.# To minimize insect damage:

  • Encourage the presence of birds in your garden by situating seed or suet feeders near your plants but out of reach of small animals. Invite woodpeckers by leaving dead trees standing 15-20 feet above ground.# Know which bugs eat the bugs that eat your plants! Never kill ladybugs, lacewings, praying mantises, wasps or spiders; they all help control pests.# Provide dark hiding places for bug-loving lizards and frogs by overturning a pot or digging out a space under stones.
  • Find easy-to-mix alternatives to chemical sprays and solutions in your own kitchen!# To keep# aphids, spider mites, caterpillars, grubs and other pests at bay, place 2-3 garlic bulbs (about 18-30 cloves total) in a blender with 6 large chili peppers (any variety), 1 tablespoon vegetable oil,# 3 squirts of eco-friendly dish detergent (which makes the solution adhere to plants), and 2-3 cups of water.# Blend well and strain through a coffee filter.# Dilute mixture with 4 more cups of water and pour a portion into a spray bottle, storing the remainder in jars with tight lids.# Avoid spraying the mixture in direct sun during the hottest part of the day.# If you still see a few bugs, experiment by adding a cup less water to the next batch.# Reapply after rain and every 7-10 days to catch any hatched eggs or larvae.## In addition, you can spray the mixture around the edge of the garden to deter pets, rabbits, gophers and other unwanted guests.
  • Mulch!# The same mulch used for weed control can discourage pests.### Spread mulch thickly (6-7 inches deep) in spring and fall.# Always use organic mulch (cedar is recommended by most gardeners) rather than crushed plastic or rubber.# Many tree trimming businesses will deliver wood chips to your driveway”free–if you call and ask!
  • Use plants that act as natural pest deterrents for nearby plants.# Catnip, dill, garlic and chives will help repel aphids, Japanese beetles, squash bugs, ants, and weevils.# Planting scented marigolds around tomatoes will drive away rabbits as well as the insects listed above.
  • Buy nematodes early in the planting season to inhibit insects that prey on early sprouts.# The nematode eggs hatch into worms that eat pests like Japanese beetles and grubs.# Nematodes are safe for pets and children and are available through garden supply stores, mail-order catalogues, or online:## http://nematodes.com/

To control fungus and mold growth on plants:

  • Know how your climate affects your garden.# Avoid bunching or clumping plants too closely; insects can find convenient hiding spaces in a Southern garden with little space between plants, and allowing enough ventilation will help prevent mold and fungus from forming in the humid summer heat.# Remove wilted or dying plants, and prune any branches trailing the ground so they won”t succumb as readily to fungus.
  • If you see signs of fungus on plants, mix 1 teaspoon baking soda in a quart of water with a squirt of dishwashing liquid to spray on plants.
  • Use mulch to prevent rain splatter on leaves of plants, thus minimizing the possibility of fungus growth.

To route deer and small animals away from your garden:

  • Recognize that deer and small animal control requires different tactics than those used for insects and fungus growth.# While no deterrent is 100% effective, you can take a few measures to make your yard feel a bit less like a 24-hour all-you-can-eat buffet for deer and rabbits.## First, familiarize yourself with which plants are more deer-resistant (though, again, resistant does not mean deer-proof; deer will eat any plant if they are hungry enough).
  • Next, you”ll want to make your garden unappealing to deer and small animals by using organic natural repellents.# Be sure to place repellents in your garden before deer identify your yard as the best place to meet for lunch.# Hanging human hair or small chunks of bar soap (any brand) in mesh bags or panty hose about three feet off the ground has had some degree of success. A more powerful repellent is Shake Away (http://www.shake-away.com/ ), 100% organic pellets of coyote urine that trick deer, armadillos and raccoons into fearing a predator is nearby.# Shake Away is safe for children, pets and plants.
  • Place fencing around your flower or vegetable garden, making certain the fence is at least 7 feet high and well-secured into the ground so that animals are not able to push their way under.# You might also wish to consider installing a shorter fence a few feet away from the main one; deer have poor depth perception, so a double fence confuses them.# If you do double-fence, you don”t need as much height since deer are much less likely to jump into narrow enclosed spaces.

Be aware that just because a remedy is natural or organic does not mean it is safe!# In general:

  • Do not assume that twice as much of any application is twice as good. Apply only the amount directed.
  • Do not use moth balls to deter pests from your plants.# They can be toxic to dogs and cats and can contaminate the soil.
  • Avoid sprinkling cayenne or other pepper in the soil around plants as it can cause damage to the esophagus and eyes of squirrels and chipmunks.

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