Lady beetles, praying mantis and other beneficial
insects feed on damaging pests like aphids. Just tolerate a bit of
damage and wait for the good guys to move in and clean up the
Grow a few plants to attract these and other beneficial insects to
your landscape. Dill and its relatives attract parasitic wasps,
coreopsis brings in the aphid-eating lacewings, and milkweed
attracts lady beetles as well as monarch and other butterflies. Add
some hyssop to attract the pirate bugs that eat thrips, spider mites
and leafhoppers. Then plant members of the aster family to attract
spiders that eat a variety of insects.
Invite songbirds into your gardens. They add motion and color to the
landscape and help manage garden pests. Most songbirds eat a
combination of fruits, berries, seeds, and insects. Their diet
varies with the season. During spring and summer, they eat lots of
insects and spiders when they are plentiful, easy to catch and an
important part of their hatchlings’ diet.
A birdbath will help attract them and beneficial insects to the
garden. Select one with sloping sides for easy access to the water.
Add a few seed producing flowers like black-eyed Susans,
coneflowers, salvia, coreopsis and more. If space allows, include a
few berry producing shrubs like dogwoods and evergreens for shelter.
Leave some leaf litter under trees and shrubs and in the garden for
toads that dine on slugs and other insects. Include a shallow pond
or water feature. Even a shallow saucer filled with chlorine-free
water is effective. Place rocks in and around the water for added
toad appeal. Purchase or make your own toad abode from a ceramic or
clay pot. Place it in a shady location near a garden filled with
protein-rich insects. Set it directly on the soil and elevate one
side with stones or use a cracked or broken pot that provides an
entryway for the toad.
If you can't wait for nature’s help, look for more eco-friendly
options. Knock aphids and mites off plants with a strong blast of
water. Trap slugs with shallow cans filled with beer. Trap and kill
aphids in yellow bowls filled with soapy water.
[to top of second column]
Use barriers of floating row covers to keep pests
like cabbage worms, Japanese beetles and bean beetles off plants
that don’t need bees for pollination. These fabrics let air, light
and water through so just loosely cover the plants at planting,
anchor the edges and allow the plants to support the fabric.
Use these fabrics to help manage squash vine borer
and squash bugs. Cover squash plants at planting. Remove the fabric
as soon as the plants begin flowering for bees to pollinate the
flowers. Only use this method if these pests were not a problem in
this area of the garden the previous growing season.
Remove and destroy, smash, or prune out pest-infested stems as they
are found. Enlist the help of young gardeners. Teach them the
difference between the good and bad bugs in the garden. Then show
them how to pluck, drop and stomp the plant-damaging pests. They'll
burn off some excess energy while helping maintain your garden.
If you decide to intervene with a chemical control, look for the
most eco-friendly option on the market. Always read and follow label
directions as these chemicals are designed to kill insects and if
misapplied can harm beneficial insects as well.
Melinda Myers has written more than 20 gardening books, including
The Midwest Gardener’s Handbook, 2nd Edition and Small Space
Gardening. She hosts The Great Courses “How to Grow Anything” DVD
series and the nationally-syndicated Melinda’s Garden Moment TV &
radio program. Myers is a columnist and contributing editor for
Birds & Blooms magazine and was commissioned by Summit for her
expertise to write this article. Her website is www.MelindaMyers.com.
[Photo courtesy of MelindaMyers.com]