Almost every plant in your garden will have a species of aphid feeding on it and, in low numbers, they will not cause too much damage. Check your plants regularly so that you can simply wipe aphids from the leaves or stem, or prune more heavily infested areas to remove them completely.
Natural predators such as ladybugs are the best way to control aphids, but you will need to be patient as they may not appear until the aphids are more numerous3. Look out for ants climbing the stalks of plants as they can deter natural predators in order to protect the aphids and feed off the honeydew that is excreted by them. Wrapping a strip of fabric covered in a sticky substance around the bottom of stems and trunks will prevent the ants from climbing up.
If aphid infestation starts to cause unsightly leaf curl or stunt the growth of a plant, simply spraying the leaves and stem with a strong jet of water will knock the aphids off the plants.
Pesticides and insect repellents often contain harsh toxins that can leave chemical residue on vegetables. Homemade organic pesticides are a much safer choice and can be made from inexpensive items that most people have in their home.
A spray made from a little oil and soap mixed with water will effectively suffocate aphids, mites and thrips. However, check plants carefully before using a spray as it will also remove beneficial insects such as ladybugs that may be present on the leaves and stem.
If you don’t want to destroy aphids and other insects, make a spray with chili powder or by steeping crushed garlic in water. These mixtures create a repellent rather than an insecticide. The pungent smell of garlic will make plants less attractive to insects looking for somewhere to lay their eggs without harming the insects that you want to nurture in your garden.
Whatever you spray on your plants, it’s advisable to test it on a small area first in order to ensure it’s not too strong and won’t damage the plant in any way. Spray plants early in the morning or late in the evening when the sun is cooler, as this will avoid burning the plant leaves.
Even better than introducing new predators to your yard, simply encourage local wildlife to visit and they will naturally control pests in your garden for you.
Although they may be a nuisance when you’re out enjoying your garden in the summer, wasps not only help pollinate your plants but also hunt common garden pests such as the caterpillars of the tomato hornworm moth, responsible for devouring tomato plants.
Many wasps are parasitic and will lay their eggs in other often harmful insects, larvae and caterpillars. You can attract them to your garden by providing shelter in the form of hanging bundles of small twigs or stems. By placing these habitats away from any human activity, you’ll also discourage wasps from nesting in and around your house.
Putting out sources of water, providing plenty of cover and leaving potential nesting sites such old tree stumps and logs untouched, will also attract local birds to your garden. Birds are voracious insect eaters, especially while they are rearing their young.
Chickadees will eat aphids, whitefly, ants and earwigs but their chicks are particularly fond of a high protein snack of caterpillar. To bring up each batch of fledglings, a pair of chickadees will need to find around 7,500 caterpillars4, so they make a very valuable contribution to the pest control in your garden.
Crickets can damage young plants and flowers but, along with beetles and larvae, are a favorite of bluebirds. Bluebirds prefer open spaces to hunt, so leave some uncluttered areas of the garden dotted with perches from where they can catch insects. Bluebirds will eat berries and other fruit to sustain themselves during the winter, so planting native shrubs is a way to attract them all year round.
Although most birds are a welcome addition to a garden overrun with insect pests, crows are not always so desirable, especially if you are attempting to grow crops from seed.
Crows are omnivores so they will eat anything from seeds and grain to small mammals and even other birds. Although they will also eat insects, they can pull up seeds and shoots and ruin whole yields of crops.
A classic deterrent for crows is a homemade scarecrow and making one can be a fun project to undertake as a family. Create a simple human form with outstretched arms from sticks or small branches and dress it up in old clothes.
To make it more effective, move it every few days so the birds don’t get used to its position. Attaching decorations that will move in the wind or hanging reflective items to catch the light will make it more frightening to the birds.
Mice and rats can cause considerable damage in the garden, eating germinating seeds and young plants. In addition, rats are also responsible for passing on 35 diseases5 which they can spread through their faeces, directly biting humans or indirectly through the parasites that they host. Rather than having to deal with an infestation, make sure you are not encouraging them into your garden in the first place.
Keeping your garden tidy by removing piles of debris and dead leaves will make it a less hospitable place for these pests to thrive. Food scraps, pet food and wild bird seed will all attract rats and mice.
You can stop vermin getting to these easy sources of food by putting a lid on garbage cans, containing and covering compost heaps and sweeping up seeds that have fallen to the ground from bird tables. Harvest any fallen fruit, seeds or nuts as soon as they drop.
If you do have a problem with mice and rats, try spraying peppermint oil in areas where you think they might be present as they are overwhelmed and confused by the strong scent.
Planting catnip around your garden will have the same effect and it will also provide a treat for your new pet cat if you decide to get one to ward off mice. Even if they don’t manage to catch anything, just the smell of a cat in your garden will be off-putting to mice and rats.
Larger animals setting up home or just wandering into your garden can also cause problems as they eat vegetable crops and cause damage to flower beds.
To prevent rabbits and groundhogs nibbling on shoots, fencing around precious plants or vegetable plots may be the answer. It needs to be at least three feet tall to keep them out and it will also need to be buried a foot underground to stop rabbits burrowing under. If you don’t want to put up a fence, cover young plants with fabric or netting to protect them until they get established.
Moles are sometimes viewed as pests when they are tearing up well-manicured lawns or uprooting plants with their digging. However, unless your garden is overrun with them, you may want to think twice about trying to get rid of them. As well as naturally aerating the soil, they can easily eat half their own body weight in grubs and destructive insects such as Japanese beetles.
Once you have some preventative measures in place, you can stay one step ahead of pests and prevent infestations and irreparable damage from occurring in the first place. Look after your plants to keep them strong and healthy so that they are able to withstand attacks from insects, and check them regularly for early signs of damage.
Be vigilant in keeping your garden tidy of garbage and other natural debris, but don’t be too fussy about messy patches of wildflowers and overgrown grasses as these provide food and shelter for the predatory creatures that you want to attract.
Overseeing the smooth running of a garden is a balancing act. You want to keep pests in check and discourage destructive insects, while at the same accepting that all creatures have their place in the natural world, however slimy or destructive they are.
Working in harmony with them while maintaining natural and sustainable methods of control, is better for you and your family, all the creatures in your garden and the environment as a whole.