By encouraging natural predators, following good garden practice, and making regular checks on your plants, you can keep many pests at bay. Aim to create conditions that support a healthy balance of predators and their prey, and you will limit the damage and need fewer chemical controls.
Keeping pests at bay
Pest patrol should begin when you buy new plants or accept leafy gifts. Unwelcome visitors also fly or crawl in from neighboring gardens, so keep your eyes peeled and take prompt action.
Reducing the risk
To prevent a plague of pests, avoid growing large areas of one type of plant. It is more difficult for pests to home in on their target when confronted by a variety of different plants, such as perennials, annuals, and shrubs, as well as herbs, vegetables, and fruit. The abundant nectar also draws in beneficial insects. Don’t overfeed plants because aphids love the resulting soft growth.
Use a hand lens to scan flower buds, shoot tips, and the undersides of leaves for mites, aphids, and whitefly. Also look for grubs or nibbled roots when you take plants out of their pots, and search for caterpillars on rolled or skeletonized leaves. A night-time foray with a flashlight will reveal nocturnal pests, such as slugs and snails; seek them out during the day by checking under pots. Weed regularly, and look out for pest hideouts.
There’s often a frustrating lag between the appearance of pests, like aphids, and their natural predators, such as ladybirds, lacewings and hoverfly larvae. So, don’t be too quick to reach for insecticides, as killing off natural predators’ food sources may drive them away. Chemical pesticides also kill friendly bugs, as well as unwanted insects.
It is important to recognize the chief insect predators; they are often the larvae of more familiar adults, like ladybugs and hoverflies, but some are quite different in appearance. By knowing what these larvae look like, you will be less likely to confuse them with pests, and may be able to move them to badly infested plants.
Some predators hide under leaf litter and bark mulch, and are invisible during the day, actively feeding at night. One example is ground beetles, which attack slugs. Visit internet websites to identify mystery bugs or try ask the experts at your garden center. There’s often a frustrating lag between the appearance of pests, like aphids, and their natural predators, such as ladybirds, lacewings and hoverfly larvae. So, don’t be too quick to reach for insecticides, as killing off natural predators’ food sources may drive them away. Chemical pesticides also kill friendly bugs, as well as unwanted insects.
Encouraging friendly beasts
Lure beneficial insects into your garden by providing hibernation sites, such as a log pile, and simple flowers, which attract nectar-feeding types. Grow leafy ground cover to shelter slug-munching frogs and toads, and add a small pond with grassy margins. Delay cutting herbaceous plants till spring for winter cover, and provide food, water, and nesting sites for birds.