Don’t use harmful chemicals in your garden! Learn how to prevent garden pests and diseases organically with these tips.
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5 Ways to Prevent Garden Pests Organically
1. Focus on your soil
Most important! Healthy soil & healthy plants = fewer problems. Healthy plants are much less susceptible to pests and diseases. When a plant is struggling, it is more likely to succumb to damage from insects and other diseases.
Healthy soil, rich in organic matter and microbes, is one way to prevent garden pests organically. The microbes break down the organic matter and make it available to plants as nutrients. Your plants will be healthier as a result.
Take a good look at your soil; it should be rich, loose, and hopefully full of life, with worms and lots of good stuff! If it is, great! Keep up what you are doing. If it isn’t, take steps to correct it. The soil will improve over time as you make it a priority.
- Determine your soil structure: Sandy, clay, or loamy types have different characteristics. Ideally, your soil is loamy, a combination of clay and sandy types. This is the most desirable for growing plants.
- Feed your soil! Organic amendments are the most effective way to promote long-term soil health and fertility. Things such as blood meal, bone meal, worm castings, and Azomite help feed the microbes in the soil and promote healthy plants.
- Learn how to compost or buy different types of compost and add some to the soil each time you plant.
Over time, your soil structure will improve, and your plants will have what they need to thrive and resist pests and diseases organically.
Learn more about adding soil to your raised beds in this blog post.
Tired of your lawn’s high maintenance and water demands? Consider these low-water-use ground covers as lawn alternatives.
2. Implement companion planting practices
Take advantage of plants that help each other grow, repel harmful insects, and attract pollinators and other helpful insects. Companion planting is an important part of preventing pests and diseases in the garden organically.
Grow plants like basil, garlic, marigolds, and chives together to help prevent pests. Plant flowers like cosmos, sunflowers, and alyssum to attract beneficial insects that will keep the garden healthy.
Provide sources of food and water for pollinators like butterflies!
Here are a few of my favorite companion plants:
Onions – Onions are great friends to tomatoes, the cabbage family, and strawberries. I plant one or two bulbs in and among all those plants.
A type of onion that does well here in Arizona is I’itoi Onions. I plant them all around my garden.
Nasturtiums are also what’s known as a ‘trap crop‘; insects feed on and lay their eggs in trap crops instead of other areas around the garden.
Both marigolds and nasturtium are easily grown from seed and also self-seed easily. Collect seeds from spent blooms to share with other gardeners or save for next season.
Learn more about companion planting in this blog post.
3. Rotate where you plant crops each season
There are many reasons to rotate where you plant your crops, but preventing pests and diseases organically is a big one!
If you plant tomatoes or broccoli in the same place year after year, you are giving the pests and diseases a head start! The disease or eggs may already be in the soil; when their favorite host plant is there again, it’s a party.
Instead, rotate where you plant in the garden. If the disease or pest in the soil finds carrots (which they don’t happen to like), they may die trying to find their way back to those tasty tomatoes.
4. Spend time in your garden each day
Make daily walks through your garden a habit. I love walking around and noticing the new growth and blossoms. Use this time to be on the lookout for problems as well.
- Check the undersides of leaves for eggs or bugs.
- Notice if caterpillar frass (poop) is present; it’s one of the easiest ways to spot hornworm caterpillars feasting on your tomatoes. If you see the frass, the hornworm is probably nearby!
- Look for damage to leaves or stems of plants, and look around for the culprit.
- Try to be in your garden when your drip or water system is running; you will spot leaks or watering problems immediately. A battery died in my irrigation timer last year, and it took me a couple of days to realize what had happened. The plants were stressed by no water, and the bugs moved in. I had to pull out infested cucumber plants.
Spending time in your garden alerts you to small problems before they get larger. It’s much easier to pick off a few snails, squash bug eggs, or squash bugs than an army of them.
Here’s a tip: If check your garden in the morning, when it’s cooler, some bugs (like squash bugs) are more sluggish and easier to catch.
Read this blog post to see the six things you should check for when you spend time in your garden daily.
Want to save water and create a gorgeous, eco-friendly landscape? Learn why replacing grass lawns with low-water-use groundcovers is a good idea.
5. Wait for beneficial insects to help you
The goal of organic gardening is to get a mini-ecosystem going on in your garden. A few aphids come, and then hopefully, here come the ladybugs.
Don’t be too quick to get rid of bugs. If the plant’s overall health won’t be affected by a couple of bugs, just keep an eye on it. Remember that when you spray, especially when you are using chemicals, you might kill the good guys as well as the bad guys. If you do decide to spray, start with water.
Always use a light hand, even with organic control methods.
Consider pulling heavily infested plants rather than treating them repeatedly. Often, plants become infested when they reach the end of their life cycle.
Learn to recognize beneficial and harmful insects in all their forms (eggs, larvae, pupae, adult, etc.). Be an informed organic gardener and welcome beneficial insects into your garden.
Green lacewings are not picky eaters and will feast on many garden pests, including leafhoppers, aphids, mites, thrips, mealybugs, whiteflies, and caterpillars.
If you see these eggs, do a happy dance that you will soon have the help of lacewings in your garden.
A praying mantis will feast on a wide range of insects, including caterpillars, grasshoppers, crickets, moths, and even butterflies.
They can be an effective form of natural pest control in the garden. However, it is important to remember that they are not selective in what they eat and may also feed on beneficial insects like bees and ladybugs.
Looking for more organic pest control solutions that really work? Read this blog post.