IN THE GARDEN: Protecting your Plants Naturally

Sunday, July 30, 2017 - 13:42

There is nothing more exasperating to a gardener than to see their plants being devoured by bugs. Just yesterday, tiny Thrips were all over my long awaited white Peony blooms and my disdain for these little creeps came out.

I do not claim to be a bug expert nor would I ever want to be. Fortunately for us, there are those who want to be and go the extra mile to investigate this subject. This gardener is averse to unknown chemicals that may harm my bees, butterflies and birds which I adore. I guess it comes down to this really, I would rather have my partners in the garden to help pollinate my plants than worry myself to death over a few chewed on leaves.

As many a schooled gardener has reminded me, good prevention practices are worth a pound of cure. Let’s look at some of these practices in hopes of kicking up our gardening practices up a notch and maybe prevent some of these problems.

After the ground has thawed, tilling the soil the depth of the spade tool where you intend to plant and around your plants increases the air supply underground. This practice can contribute to strong, deep roots and improves the structure and the nutrients to the soil when organic matter is added. Proper tillage of the soil destroys many of the insects that winter underground. Letting the fresh air in by generous spacing of your plants ensures they get the nutrients they need and provides adequate sunlight and ventilation around them, thus decreasing the chance of disease. Watering your plants early in the day allows them to shed excess moisture throughout the day and reduce the risk of fungal diseases. Fungus also stands less of a chance of thriving if there is good drainage. With these practices you decrease your risk of bugs attacking your garden.

Choosing to plant healthy looking plants free of pests and symptoms of disease gives a plant a good start. Keeping plants healthy by routine fertilization helps to deter bugs from picking on your garden beauties.

A garden that is unsanitary with weeds and debris is a depository for insect eggs. Fallen fruit and remains of vegetables should be removed because it is a breeding ground for developing larvae. Remove infected waste from your garden into a garbage bag or burn them and do not add them to your compost pile.

One of the first steps to identify your bug problem is to look at the above factors and rule these out as a cause. Choosing disease resistant varieties of plants to begin with is half the battle. Check with the Cooperative Extension, seed and plant catalogs and nurseries for suggestions of these varieties. New varieties are being developed continually to be resistant to disease.

The amount of tolerance you have to insects bugging your beautiful garden is really up to you. Your strategy for kicking out these invaders will be established by how much damage you and your plants are willing to put up with. Monitoring your plants closely is important to stopping the damage before it gets going.

There are several bug repelling plants that should be considered and are frequently employed by gardeners planted in and amongst their plants: Basal, lavender, catnip, Marigold, Rosemary, Lemongrass, and Peppermint.

One afternoon as I was out in the garden pulling weeds, I found my hanging baskets full of aphids that were not there three hours ago when they were watered. These bugs came out of nowhere and they covered everything. Aphids are soft bodied insects and they can be sprayed with numerous organic remedies that will smother and kill them. Knocking these pests off with a stream of water will slow them down. Then plan your attack. The goal is not to harm your butterflies, bees and birds. I have researched some of these home grown versions for you to try. The following recipes of sprays should be used on a test sample first to make sure they will not harm the plants they are used on:

Homemade Leaf Miner Spray

¼ cup Molasses

1½ cups water

Homemade Insecticidal Soap

1/8 cup baking soda

2-3 drops of Dawn dish detergent or castile soap

2 cups water

To help repel chewing insects, add a teaspoon of ground red pepper or a garlic clove per gallon. Two tablespoons of cooking oil helps the solutions stick longer.

Beneficial bugs can be released in your garden to help you control the offenders. Ladybugs love to feed on your aphids in the evening. Prior to letting these darlings go, mist the areas with sugar water for them to drink to get them going. They have been in bags for a while and are in need of a quick energy drink. These eating machines are mighty warriors to help you in your fight against unwanted bugs. Be patient and give them time to wake up and get started. Green lace wings are also a great natural pest controller. Both of these beneficial bugs can be purchased at I have also seen ladybugs at our local nurseries for purchase.

Birds are also on the job eating bugs in and around our plants and trees all day long. When you garden with wildlife in mind, they become active partners to eat bugs in and around your garden.

I have mixed up my homemade insecticide soap and I am trying it on my Thrips tonight. I hope you find this helpful in your quest to protect you garden. We can’t let them win. We must, “keep calm and garden on”.

Chris Wood is a certified master gardener from Eagle River who serves as president of the Greater Eagle River Garden Club and was recently elected president of the Alaska Garden Clubs. For questions or column ideas, write to her at [email protected].

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