Controlling Plant Pests In the Organic Garden

By Charles Hopkins Published 06/1/2006 | Gardening
Controlling plant pests in the organic garden has always been a struggle because there is no suitable organic chemical to treat them. I find that hoeing between plants regularly reduces soil pests by bringing them to the surface, where birds can find them easier.

Don't give up hope! There are some very effective controls to rid your garden of these destructive monsters. Not the least of these methods is to encourage natural predators.

By maintaining an organic garden, you are providing a far more conducive environment to all forms of wildlife than a chemically controlled one. This natural balance ensures your garden will contain, and attract, predators which will feed on garden pests.

Here's a list of some 'garden friends' and some things you can do to encourage their help:

Sometimes regarded as a pest, placing productive and nesting boxes near your garden will encourage birds into the garden where they feast on grubs, caterpillars, slugs and aphids.

Frogs and Toads
A garden pond is perhaps the ideal compliment to attract frogs and toads, however, they really only need water for breeding. Frogs and toads are excellent for controlling slugs, woodlice and other small insects.

Lady Beetles (lady bugs)
These aphid devouring predators are easily identifiable by most gardeners. The less familiar, slate-gray larvae are not as recognizable, but eat as much, if not more, than their adult counterparts. They can be lured into the garden by cultivating a varied selection of plants.

Ground Beetles
These black garden beetles prey on cutworms, leatherjackets, slugs, snails and many other pests that have a larvae or egg stage. Some species will even pursue prey that live on plants or trees such as gypsy moths and tent caterpillars. Providing permanent plantings, stones, or loose leaf cover will encourage these voracious hunters and give them a place to hide during the day. They will come out at night and feed on the pests. Adults can live 2-3 years.

Planting pollen and nectar flowers and providing a water source will encourage lacewings into your garden where they will lay their eggs on the underneath of leaves. These eggs will hatch in 4-7 days and the larvae will feed on aphids and other soft bodied insect pests for about 3 weeks, and then pupate in the soil for 5-7 days. Generally, 3-4 generations per year. Surviving adults will then overwinter and emerge in the Spring to begin the cycle.

Hover Flies/Flower Flies
The larvae, which resemble thin wasps, feed on aphids. Adult flies lay their eggs directly in the aphid colonies. Eggs hatch in 2-3 days and the larvae feed on aphids for 3-4 weeks. Two to four generations per year. Hover flies can be attracted to the garden by planting marigolds and nasturtiums close by.

It's pretty easy to see that there are many ways nature provides its own checks and balances. What we, as organic gardeners, need to remember is - when we are trying to eliminate pests, it's important not to eliminate our beneficial 'friends.