There are myriad natural ways to keep bugs out of your garden. The key, however, is keeping the bad bugs out while you still let the good bugs in.
So, what’s a wannabe organic gardener to do? Well, one of the most important keys to controlling garden insects without using harsh chemicals is to keep your garden healthy. For most of us, following a few simple housekeeping rules around the garden will keep our plots happy and healthy throughout most of the growing season.
In fact, unless your garden falls prey to some sort of exotic pest or particularly insidious plant disease, these natural gardening tips should be all it needs to produce a relatively pest-free bounty of crops.
Control Insects by Controlling Weeds
Weeds are the stealthy thieves of your garden. They sneak in and steal precious nutrients, water and space from the plants you’re actually trying to grow. Even worse, their thievery weakens your crops, leaving the plants you’re trying to cultivate more vulnerable to insect predation and disease.
Help keep your garden healthy by ruthlessly rooting out weeds whenever and wherever you can. The easiest way to control weeds in your garden is to weed regularly. It may not seem like it, but just an hour or two a week (depending on how big your garden is, of course!) is all it takes to keep weeds from taking over your garden.
With weeding, the key is to be a proactive weeder and remove weeds before they have a chance to spread. So, for weeds that use seeds to propagate (like dandelions), dig them out before they go to seed. For others, pull them out before they get a chance to really dig in and spread. If you make it a habit and stick with it, you may be surprised at how manageable weeds will suddenly seem.
Maintain a Healthy Environment
If unhealthy garden conditions are stressing your plants, they’re less likely to be able to fend off disease and insect infestation.
- Drainage (Do you have pooling and puddling that indicates poor soil drainage?)
- Overcrowding (Are your plants unusually leggy or do they show signs of fungal problems like powdery mildew?)
- Plant diversity (Do you have a variety of plant species and types growing in your garden, to support a population of beneficial insects?)
- Sunlight (Are your plants getting enough sun for their needs?)
If you pay attention to these key quality-of-life indicators for plants, your plants will let you know if they’re stressed or experiencing problems, so it’s not like you’re on your own. Work with your plants and they’ll work with you!
Try Homemade Insecticides and Pesticides
Although most homemade insecticidal soaps and pesticides may not be as powerful or potent as store-bought chemicals, they’re also not nearly as dangerous or damaging to the environment. And, there are plenty of effective homemade pesticide recipes and recipes for insecticidal soaps out there that use easy-to-find ingredients that most of us already have around the house anyway.
Rotate Crops to Prevent Disease
Because many of the soilborne insects and diseases that attack plants remain viable in the soil long after damaged plants are removed, rotating crops prevents new plants from being infested by last season’s soilborne problems. To successfully use crop rotation as a natural way to deter pest and disease infestation, make sure that you don’t plant the same type of plant (or a closely related plant) in the same area for two seasons (especially if your previous year’s plants showed signs of distress or disease). Depending on the size of your garden and the number of crops you grow, it just takes a wee bit of planning to use crop rotation successfully.
Interplanting is a tried-and-true natural method of deterring garden pests and diseases from hopping from plant to plant. Instead of planting the same species of plants in blocked groups that allows problems to easily spread, interplanting involves mixing different species of plants to thwart would-be pests. For instance, instead of planting four rows of carrots in a line, you might try planting rows of chives between the carrots, since carrots get along well with chives and chives repel insects.
Not only does the mixture of smells, colors and chemical signatures created by interplanting confuse pests looking for their preferred prey, it creates an actual physical border that makes it harder for pathogens and pests to emigrate to new plants (so to speak).
Looking for other natural ways to keep your garden healthy? Check out my Gardening Guides page.