Don’t spray harmful chemicals in your garden, learn methods to prevent pests and diseases before they become a problem. Providing fresh organic produce for your family is the reward for educating yourself about ways to prevent pests and diseases organically.
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5 Ways to Prevent Garden Pests Organically
1. Most important! Healthy soil & healthy plants = less 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 crucial for healthy plants. The microbes break down the organic matter and make it available to plants as nutrients.
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. 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 desireable 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, 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.
2. Companion planting
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 in the garden organically.
Here are a few of my favorite companion plants:
- Onions – a type that does well here in Arizona is I’itoi onions, (a kind of perpetual or multiplier onion), I plant them all around my garden. Onions are great friends to tomatoes, the cabbage family and strawberries. I plant one or two bulbs in and among all those plants. (They don’t like peas or beans however so keep that in mind).
- Nasturtiums – Prolific and edible, nasturtiums also help repel squash bugs, blackfly, whiteflies and borers. Tomatoes, radishes, squash and fruit trees benefit from nasturtiums planted nearby. 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.
- Marigolds – Tomatoes, strawberries, apple trees and beans love marigolds. Marigolds discourage nematodes.
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. Likewise, save a few I’itoi onions to plant and some to share with others.
3. Crop rotation - Pay attention to this one
There are many reasons to roate 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 and when their favorite host plant is there again, it’s a party!!! Instead, move items around 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. Daily vigilance
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 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, look around for the culprit.
- Try be in your garden when your drip or water system is running, you will spot leaks or problems with watering right away. A battery died in my irrigation timer last year and it took me a couple of days before I realized what had happened. The plants were stressed from 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 few squash bug eggs or squash bugs than an army of them.
Here’s a tip: If check your garden in the morning when its cooler some bugs like squash bugs are more sluggish and easier to catch.
5. Let beneficial insects help you out. Don’t be too quick to spray for every bug.
The goal with organic gardening is to get a little 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, then try soapy water and neem oil. There are organic options.
Always use a light hand even with organic control methods.
Consider pulling heavily infested plants rather than treating repeatedly. Often plants become infested when they reach the end of their life cycle.
Learn to recognize beneficial insects in all their forms (eggs, larvae, pupae, adult, etc.) Be an informed organic gardener and welcome beneficial insects into your garden.