Not all bugs are bad, and good bugs eat bad bugs. Getting to know the bugs in your garden will help you identify the good guys from the bad guys.
Pay attention to signs of bad-bug problems early, before they have the opportunity to take hold. Daily rounds through the gardens are the best prevention for bug infestation. Check gardens early morning and evening when bugs are most active. Keep a gardening notebook to track problems and successes.
Broadcast spraying with chemical pesticides kills both good and bad bugs and upsets the natural balance of your garden. Biological soap sprays, however, are safe to use and do not harm plants when used sparingly. Soap sprays are effective when sprayed directly on aphids, spider mites, and whiteflies.
Check under the leaves of aphid-prone plants such as delphiniums and roses, and spray adult aphids off plants with a hard, steady stream of water from the garden hose. Lay wooden planks down around the garden for slugs to take refuge under. Regular checking and removal will keep the slug population down.
Good bugs should be encouraged to grace your gardens. The most common and coveted good bugs are ladybugs, ground beetles, ants, and bees. (Ants bite and bees sting, so wear body-covering clothing and gardening gloves.)
Some garden centres sell ladybugs in containers. Follow the instructions carefully. Place ladybugs near or on plants with aphid problems. Allow ground beetles to flourish near slug-prone plants. Ants can devour bad bugs as large as caterpillars. Bee balm, columbines, and other fragrant flowers attract pollinating bees; pollination helps plants bear fruit and create seeds.
Plants to the Rescue
Stands with just one plant species are prone to infestation, so intersperse bug-busting plants throughout the garden. Strong aromatic plants such as onions and garlic fend off cutworms, and marigolds protect plants because their smell confuses pests.
Nasturtiums repel tree borers and nematodes, and when used as bait crops, nasturtiums’ scent will distract aphids away from other, more prized plants. Nasturtiums contain mustard oil, which aphids love.
Attractive, bug-busting plants fit beautifully into any garden design. Sweet alyssum attracts aphid-eating flower flies. Amaranth is a good bug magnet that attracts ladybugs, ground beetles, and mite-devouring shield bugs. Good bugs adore borage’s gorgeous blue flowers.
The garden is an ecosystem, and when it’s in balance, pest problems are less likely to occur. Nontoxic gardening practices are better for the environment and safer for humans and pets, too.
Nontoxic Bug Spray
Combine 2 Tbsp (30 mL) of soap flakes with about 4 cups (1 L) of warm water. Spray infected areas once a week until problem is resolved. Overspraying can burn plants, so use with care.