Control Insects Without Pesticides

We certainly understand that many gardeners become anxious when they see pests on their plants and want to react decisively when they see their plants damaged. But we must remind you of the central principle of organic gardening: growing plants in harmony with Nature. And insects, even those that eat your plants, are a crucial part of that system. When you see insects in your garden, take some time to really watch what they're doing. Are they actually destroying the plant or just nibbling it a bit? Many plants can outgrow minor damage. Also, in many cases, insects attack stressed out plants. Do you have enough healthy plants to spare the sickly ones? Can you restore sickly plants to robust health so they can resist insect attack? The best defenses against insect attack are preventative measures. Grow plants suited to the site and they'll be less stressed out. Don't let them be too wet, too dry or too shaded. Design a diverse garden, so that pests of a particular plant won't decimate an entire section of the garden.

Most importantly, encourage the natural predators of pest insects to hunt in your garden—beneficial insects (such as the common ladybug), birds, frogs and lizards control pests by eating them. You can make your garden hospitable for your natural allies by keeping a water source (just a dish-full, if that's all you've got) nearby for them and by not wiping out the entire pest population with a pesticide, sending the beneficials elsewhere in search of food. Also, grow plants with small blossoms like sweet alyssum and dill, which attract predatory insects who feed on flowers' nectar between attacks on pests.

Barriers such as row covers, netting and plant collars very effectively protect crops from pests. Sticky traps and pheromone lures are another way to minimize your pest problems without harming other living things in your garden. You'll find row covers (the best-known brand is Reemay) and other barriers, along with traps and the like at your local garden center and in mail-order catalogs.

Finally, if you need to react quickly to an acute pest invasion you can choose from several natural products that affect specific insects, won't harm humans, pets or wildlife, and that degrade quickly in the environment. Among the best of those products is Bacillus thuringiensis, a naturally occurring bacteria that you apply to your plants to disrupt the digestion of caterpillars and other leaf-eaters. Be sure to identify the pest positively before you buy this product because each strain of Bt affects specific kinds of insects. Horticultural oils, insecticidal soaps and garlic and/or hot pepper sprays also work well against many pests.


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