It’s time to water your garden and with your trusty watering can in hand, you meander back to your prize-winning cabbages. They appear happy and healthy at first, but as you inch closer; you notice tiny, pear shaped insects clustering on the leaves, sucking out the juices and leaving damage behind. Before you grab a bottle of pesticide, consider that the chemicals found in traditional pesticides can be harmful to your health, and can eventually leak into the ground and contaminate your family’s tap water. Check out these common pests that could disrupt your garden, and the natural remedies to keep them at bay.
Aphids: These pear-shaped insects may appear harmless at first glance, but these little guys defy the laws of science and are born pregnant; which can lead to a quick infestation. Try spraying them off with forceful water, using a plant based soap (recipe below), and attracting ladybugs, lacewings and hoverflies to your garden. Plants like parsley, fennel, coriander, sunflowers and Queen Anne Lace will attract these ally insects, and could help keep Aphids and other harmful critters out of your garden.
Beetles: There are many varieties of beetles, and many will hide under the leaves and flowers of your plants, chewing away the foliage and leaving your plants looking tattered. If you’re not terribly squeamish, pick them (or dust buster them) off the plants, and destroy their eggs that may be hiding just beneath the surface of your plant. While beetles love feasting on starchy plants like potatoes, they tend to loathe yarrow, catnip and garlic plants. Keeping these plants nearby may prevent beetles from trespassing in your garden.
Caterpillars: Caterpillars may look charming, but as they increase in size, their mouths grow even larger; leaving gaping holes in their feasting paths. Once they become butterflies, they will deter harmful pests in your garden. But if their caterpillar stage is wreaking havoc on your garden, pluck them off the plants and make your own caffeine spray (recipe below) to deter them from inching along your favorite vegetables.
Leafhoppers: Feeding on plant sap, leafhoppers are another villainous garden pest. Leafhoppers belong to the Cicadellidae family, and there are numerous species that could damage your garden. Just as their name implies, these insects hop from plant to plant when disturbed. Ranging in size from approximately ¼ – ½ inch, wedge-shaped leafhoppers feed on plants using their sucking mouthparts, similar to their sidekick; the aphid. Some species of leafhoppers can transmit a virus particularly harmful to beets, tomatoes and other crops causing crinkled, dwarfed or distorted roots and veins. If you suspect a small leafhopper problem, spray off the leaves with forceful water. For more severe infestations, consider incorporating ladybugs, lacewings, hoverflies and praying mantids in the garden (see Aphids for plants that attract these insects).
Mealybugs and White Flies: Common in indoor plants, these critters can weaken your plants while mealybugs leave a sticky substance behind. Normally infestations occur from a new infested plant exposing the others to the insect. To keep these pests at bay, try creating more air circulation in the area the plants reside in. For severe infestations, spray the leaves with diluted alcohol (remember to administer a test a patch first). Neem oil, plant based soaps and even natural dish detergent has also been studied to rid your plants of these bothersome pests.
Slugs and Snails: Similar to caterpillars, these plump pests leave holes in your plants, while leaving behind their trademark sticky trail. Luckily, slugs and snails go wild for a cold brew, and some prefer leaving a container of beer at the base of the plant for the slugs to eventually drown in. If the thought of watching a slug drown in your favorite stout seems hard to swallow (pardon the pun), try attracting lizards and garden snakes to your garden by leaving sunning stones and water nearby. Your garden will feel like an oasis to these slug-loving reptiles.
Make your own natural insecticides!
Caffeine Spray: Combine a few tablespoons of used coffee grounds with herbs like: catnip, lavender, yarrow and thyme. Add 2 cups of water, and allow at least 24 hours for the mixture to steep. Strain, and spray liberally on insects and plant leaves. Combine with insecticide soap (below) for a stronger treatment.
Plant-Based Insecticide Soap: Add 1-2 tablespoons of castile soap to 2 cups of water. Spray insects as needed. Add boiled garlic cloves to boost the effectiveness.