Organic Pest Control in the Sustainable Garden
Garden pests can be defined as a group of damage causing organisms
specific to the garden setting such as certain insects, animals or
bacteria and fungi.
Learn all about how to identify which ones are
harmful, and which are beneficial with the Plant Pests E-Book.
Any creature that damages or eats plants will fit into this
description. Garden pests may be as large as moose or deer, destroying
fruit trees or shrubs while browsing the stems, or as minuscule as
bacterial canker using a plant as a host.
Some techniques can reduce or control garden pests by mechanical means, such as fencing and mulching,
or by baffling the senses of insects using tactics such as smell from
garlic, onions or marigolds to deter them.
This is referred to as
'companion planting' with many plants benefiting from a close
association with certain other plants.
Simply planting many different kinds of plants close together can
confuse many garden pests, or diffuse the damage to plants by making it
harder for the pest to find its preferred host plants among many other
scents or colours.
is how nature protects plants and organisms, so using the same method
in your garden will ensure that some of every kind of life form will
survive even a drastic pest attack.
Attract beneficial insects with a nectar corridor and make your garden attractive to xeric garden birds to help with your pest control efforts.
Sustainable gardening methods such as increasing the organic matter in the soil with compost enables healthy plants to withstand damage from garden pests. Learn more about ways to utilize natural techniques with the Sustainable Gardening E-Book.
will still see some garden pests at work, but the damage will be
lessened by using some of these strategies to control garden pests.
Trying to find out what your bug is? Look through the Insect Encyclopedia.
Eliminating pests in your xeric garden organically will give you a
considerable advantage over the gardeners that are still trying to grow
beautiful gardens with pest management techniques from the dark ages.
growing trend away from using chemical pesticides entirely means that
those gardeners will be dragged kicking and screaming into growing
your garden, pests will be minimal due to your wise use of organic
gardening methods to ensure you have a well balanced ecosystem.
balance is crucial for limiting pests, as plants under stress send out
alarm signals which attract pests to them. A weak plant is a target for
- You will be using soil building, composting and mulching techniques to eliminate stress in your plants, enabling them to easily shrug off pests. The addition of glacial rock dust to your compost or directly to the growing beds will increase the pest resistance of the plants.
- Beneficial insects, wildlife and birds will also be contributing to your pest management system.
- Use benign pesticides such as diatomaceous earth which have no effect on earthworms or other soft bodied organisms, but kill aphids and many other insect pests. Home made pest sprays are easy to make with common household ingredients.
Pests that you may encounter are sometimes the four legged kind –
skunks, raccoons, deer, chipmunks, squirrels and cats. Here are some
ways of dealing with the four legged types:
- Fences work well for most critters that don’t climb, such as
dogs, rabbits and so on. The cleanest fencing I’ve seen is black
plastic netting which will hold out most animals as long as they have a
route around it, but don’t try this if you have limited area for a
detour as they’ll go right through it. The same risk exists if you have
a trapped animal, such as a deer.
- Twig fences
add a rustic feel to your garden, and if additional netting is used to
prevent animals from pushing through the bottom of it, it makes a
functional and beautiful accent to a country garden.
fencing is page wire, or woven wire with squares that range from 5cm to
20cm (3-8"). Most deer, elk and moose won’t jump over 1.75 meters (8') high. They
will shy away from anything that feels as though it will trap their
legs, and they won’t jump anything if they can’t see the other side.
also seen a fencing technique using two short fences about 1 to 2
meters (3-6') apart which works well for deer, as they won’t jump where they
feel there isn’t room to land. Even though they can easily jump up to 2
meters (10') in height, these short fences work great and don’t make your
garden look like a fortress. Use the area inside the two fences for a
chicken run to keep the weeds down.
netting can deter unwanted visitors, as long as the fence is not
touching grass or weeds which will ground it and prevent it from working
- Skunks and raccoons tend to be attracted to compost, so keeping
it in a closed bin will eliminate most of their nocturnal visits.
you do happen to have one determined to get into your corn or other
vegetables, a live trap works well, although it takes a certain skill
and determination or desperation to capture a family of skunks.
In most cases, the mother skunk is teaching her babies how to forage, so
some may get caught while others are left loose. This can be a bit
traumatic as baby skunks can spray almost as well as adults!
- In some areas there are feral cats, or pets that have been
abandoned. This can be a major problem. Although I feel sorry for
them, I don’t want them in my xeric garden, leaving landmines and
catching birds, and possibly carrying rabies or other contagious
diseases and parasites. There is a product called Skoot which might
work - this needs more research.
- Deer also hate the smell of carnivore blood, human hair, and rotten eggs. Some
products are commercially available using these kinds of repellents,
and vary in success rate. Deer seem to change their taste, and
something that works at first loses it’s efficacy over time. These also
need to be re-applied after rain, or if washed off with irrigation.
- Bears can be warned off by the use of human urine sprinkled on the boundaries of your xeric garden. This will only work if you eliminate all other attractants such as garbage, compost or fallen fruit.
Other Pest Control Tips:
- Chipmunks and squirrels are pests when you’re planting bulbs –
don’t leave any of the papery wrappers on the top of the soil, as this
attracts them. Chipmunks in particular are worst in the fall
as they’re getting ready to hibernate, and will collect up food stocks
to store for the winter. They do a lot of damage to succulent plants
and any fruit left on trees, shrubs and vines. Sometimes you can
protect your plants with rustic salvaged bird cages or make a cylinder
out of hardware cloth to protect single plants or small groups.
dig holes to bury their pine cones and other winter food stores,
sometimes digging under your plants in the process. Mulching with
pebbles will deter them, or place larger rocks around plants that are at
- Take planters with your precious tender succulent plants
indoors as soon as the nights start getting chilly, and try and have
some sacrificial plants that you don’t mind them decimating. Sedum is a plant that works well for this, as all they do is prune off the long growth, giving the plants a haircut before winter.
a feeder with whole peanuts still in the shell can distract them from
your garden. Put this in an area away from precious plants and they’ll
usually abandon the plants in preference to the peanuts.
- Xeric gardens
have few other pests, as it’s an inhospitable environment for the likes
of slugs, which are a favorite food of garter snakes and many other reptiles. Did you know that venomous snakes are afraid of garter snakes? Who would have thought?
you see slugs and snails after a rain, or in an irrigated area, they
can be trapped by putting a board down in the evening, and checking
under it in the morning where the slugs will retreat to avoid the hot
sun. You can dispose of them or move them, as you like.
- In some cases, there may be outbreaks of insects such as aphids. In a garden where the birds
are welcome this will be rare, and is an indication of other factors.
Aphids are farmed by ants, which milk them for the honeydew secreted as
waste. Get rid of the ants, or convince them to move on, and
the aphids will not be a problem. If you see tiny finches or other
birds flitting about on the branches of shrubs and trees close by, this
is sometimes what they’re after. Encourage the birds and spiders, and you’ll have fewer pests. Learn spider identification to determine which are helpful and beneficial (most of them are!).
can leave unsightly chewed leaves on your favorite plants, but before
you go on the war path, check to see what the larvae will turn into.
Nothing can make you feel worse than finding out after you exterminate
several large caterpillars on the dill plants that they would have
transformed into swallowtail butterflies.
In some cases, as
for tent caterpillars, action is required. If you don’t, they can
spread many miles, completely defoliating whole forests. If this
happens several years in a row, it can kill a seemingly healthy tree.
not a real proponent of Bacillus thuringiensis, which is a naturally
occurring bacterium that kills caterpillars, as it also kills larvae of
butterflies, too. Birds don’t like the taste of tent
caterpillars, so it may be the only solution for infestations of them,
other than cutting off the affected branches and burning them. This
bacillus is similar to that used to kill mosquito larvae in ponds,
which is harmless to pets and fish, although it seems to cause damage to
our other friends, dragonflies, with deformations of the wings when the larvae hatch out into adults.
you’re unlucky enough to garden in an area that has ticks, one solution
is to get guinea hens. Letting guinea fowl free range in your garden
will completely rid the area of ticks. That’s a win-win situation.
- In the same vein, a small flock of chickens
or ducks can take care of a wide array of pests. Just protect areas
that you don’t want to be scratched up with a short fence or a tunnel
with a row cover to keep the chickens out. Ducks don’t do too much
damage to established plants but are quite partial to young lettuce.
Keeping your plants well fed with compost, and regular patrols to determine which natural controls are already taking place will eliminate a lot of work for you.
Let Mother Nature help you while you support your garden to become a well balanced microcosm.
Accept some damage from pests, and you’ll be providing a food source for beneficial insects, birds and other wildlife.
Watching the interplay of all the many creatures in your xeric garden will fascinate and amaze you in your journey of discovery.