Watching pests eat our gardens may be one of the most frustrating aspects of gardening. Your plants look great, until one day the bugs descend to eat and eat and eat……
A common response is to reach for the many chemical concoctions out there. But this method requires a lot of fussing…right? You spot the damage, (often after much damage has been done), you become worried, you run out to buy a treatment (or use one you already have), you spray, and hope for the best. You often have to keep watching and repeat the process. And, of course, the spray could do real harm to you or your yard.
I am also not a big fan of the home-based remedies that kill bugs. The problem is that we don’t know what we are killing. These remedies also kill the “good” bugs, the bugs we need in our eco-systems, to keep the “bad” bugs in balance. Home-based remedies can be deceptively dangerous for people too. Besides there is more fussing involved.
My method for preventing pest destruction is effective and easy. I do it once at the beginning of the season and then I am good for the rest of the season. No need to watch or treat for bugs. What is my method? I plant flowers. Truly. Here’s how it works. Let’s use a vegetable garden as an example, because vegetables are often the first things to be munched on.
In your garden plant about 1/4 of the space with flowers. You want to plant flowers that are high in nectar and pollen. I love annuals in the vegetable garden because they bloom nearly all-season long. See my post “Bees Love These Annual Flowers”. Perennials with long bloom times also work. Herbs that you allow to flower can be a great choice too. Choose a variety of flowers. And avoid hybridized flowers that give little to no pollen or nectar.
All flowers are not created equal. There are some that attract large amounts of bees and beneficial insects. These are great choices:
I like to grow flowers that can be grown easily from seeds–especially those that I can sow directly into the garden. If you prefer to buy your flowers, be sure your nursery is offering flowers grown without neonicotinoids. You can plant the flowers in among your vegetables and en masse. The visual effect will be beautiful as well as functional.
Now if you are thinking, “I don’t have enough space in my garden”, tuck flowers in among the vegetables. Then consider creating a new bed right next to your vegetable garden for more flowers.
All sorts of insects seek out the nectar and the pollen of the flowers. Flowers are designed to attract bugs. The bugs come in and take their meal. Bees will probably pollinate your vegetable flowers while they are there too, which is a good thing. Beneficial insects or “good” bugs, such as lacewings or ladybugs, may discover a small population of insects devouring your broccoli for instance. They eat the troublesome insects. Its nature’s system of balance and it works incredibly well.
But it doesn’t work when we don’t offer flowers. (Yes, vegetable flowers give some nectar and pollen, but they are not enough.) And it doesn’t work if we are using chemicals or homemade remedies that kill the insects. Pesticides or homemade remedies don’t discriminate. If they kill one type of insect, that means other types of insects will die as well.
It might seem counterintuitive to “invite” bugs to your garden to keep bugs away. But trust me it works. We have to invite all the bugs to the party and let nature do her thing. We need gardens that are buzzing with activity.
With the flowers planted and blooming, annihilation of the “bad” bugs is not your goal. You will still see some devious bugs now and then. But it is unlikely you will have an infestation or they will cause much damage.
Sometimes this process might not work right away, and you need some patience. Let’s say you had a bad cucumber beetle problem on your squash or cucumber plants last year. They probably laid their eggs in your soil. That means for this year you already have a big beetle population ready to go. I would hand-pick the beetles as they appear (squish or drop into a soap solution) until your garden is buzzing with activity.
Experiment from year to year to see how many flowers you need to plant to achieve the magical balance. Give it some time. And if you give this method a try, let me know how it works for you! Planting lots of flowers has the potential to give you an easy, toxic-free method for bug control, a way to feed our important bee populations, while also beautifying your outdoor space.
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