There’s nothing gardeners love more than taking pride in their fruit and vegetable gardens. After spending hours nursing seeds, transplanting and researching care methods, it’s understandable that you would do anything to keep your plants healthy. That’s why preventing garden pests from interfering with your crop is so important. There are several effective ways to deter beetles, slugs, lacewings and other common insects. In this post, we’ll help you banish the bugs from your vegetable garden.
Understanding common garden pests
Ready to prevent pests in your garden? You’ll first need to identify the most common creatures you will likely encounter. Although the list below is by no means exhaustive, understanding what to look out for will help you understand how to treat your plants and work towards preventing an infestation.
A common pest, aphids are tiny bugs that cluster under leaves and on soft stems. They may appear green, brown, black or orange and have pear-shaped bodies. A tell-tale sign that they are damaging your plants is when you spot your leaves yellowing, becoming misshapen or curling up. If you can see honeydew coating your plant, this is also a sign that they are present. You can get rid of aphids through a number of methods, like spraying a dish soap and water solution onto your plant.
Slugs & Snails
We’re sure that you are already familiar with slugs and snails. Often seen in UK gardens, they love to consume fruit and vegetable plants. Taking nibbles from leaves, they tend to strike at night and can really damage your plants. Young seedlings are especially vulnerable. You can spot their effects via slime trails and the irregular holes they will leave on your plant. To repel them, you can add sharp mulch around your plant or apply a garlic drench.
Mice & Rats
Mice and rats can kill seedlings by grazing on their newly formed foliage and feed on freshly cropped fruit. Although traditional pest control methods for these animals have included mouse traps and poison, you can also use natural methods.
These tiny white winged insects can damage your plants by sucking out their sap, weakening plant growth. They love feasting on leafy greens, tomatoes and cucumbers and tend to pop up in greenhouses. Be warned that their infestation can be rapid, as they only have a lifecycle of about three weeks. So, keep a check under the leaves of your plant and try to undertake some organic pest control methods by companion planting.
A particularly nasty-looking insect, earwigs are noted for their brown-black bodies and intimidating pinchers. They love to consume fruits and veggies and often eat seedlings and chew through leaves, leaving ragged holes in their wake. Although a large infestation can be terrible for your crop, earwigs also act as a control pest. They eat small insects like aphids. However, if they are getting out of control, you can apply a sticky barrier at the base of your plants.
Chemical pest prevention
Chemical pest prevention generally provides quick results and can be cheaper than natural alternatives. They usually need fewer applications than natural methods, and a wide range of products are targeted at specific pests. Some chemical methods include sprays, bait blocks and pellets that contain substances that are toxic to the pests they repel. If you do plan on using any chemical pesticides, it’s crucial to carefully follow instructions, wear proper protection (e.g. gloves and goggles) and store the chemicals safely.
You may want to avoid chemical pest control if you wish to create an organic, sustainable fruit and vegetable garden. Chemical pesticides can have a harmful impact on the environment, and even after they have worked to repel pests, they may remain in the soil. This could harm pollinators like bees and butterflies and may damage your soil’s fertility.
Natural pest prevention
It is becoming more common for gardeners to opt for more humane, sustainable and safer pest control methods. There are several natural ways to keep harmful bugs and small animals away from your precious plants. Some of the most common methods are as follows:
Protect your plants from curious creatures and bad bugs by using a physical deterrent. Opt for a polytunnel or garden fleece to place over young plants to keep insects and birds at bay. This will prevent them from making your newly-planted crops their next meal. Or, if you are more worried about squirrels, foxes or even your family pets, you should consider installing some fencing around your garden bed. This fencing can be as tall and made from whatever material you want, according to whatever creature you are trying to keep at bay.
If you have a problem with burrowing animals, like moles or badgers, you may opt to plant your fruit and veggie garden in a raised bed. This will eliminate their access to all your fruit and veggies, promising the continued growth of happy, healthy plants.
Companion planting is a clever pest prevention method, as it allows you to grow plants that naturally deter or confuse pests, keeping them from harming your fruit and veggies. Some may even promote beneficial insects like bees and butterflies to visit your plants and help with pollination. Here are a few examples of companion plants that can help deter pest outbreaks:
Marigolds: Marigolds can be planted beside a range of fruit and veggies like carrots, cucumber and lettuce to deter roundworms and aphids.
Borage: Planting borage beside your tomato plants works to keep tomato hornworms at bay. It also attracts bees.
Garlic: Not only delicious and excellent in your cooking, but growing garlic also helps deter ants, aphids and even rabbits from coming near your plants.
If you wish to learn more about companion planting, you can check out our post on the subject on our knowledge hub.
Keep pests from continually taking over your plants by rotating your crops. This technique encourages the decline of pests as the insects and the eggs they lay will be cleared out each season. Plus, when you rotate your crop to a different part of your garden, depriving the pests of their preferred crops, they’ll struggle to find a new food site, hastening their decline.
Spreading a layer of mulch around the base of your plant provides an added layer of protection between the soil and your chosen crop. Thus making it harder for pests like slugs, snails and worms to access the stem and foliage. The difficulty is further increased if you mulch with sawdust or coffee grounds and add crushed eggshells to the base of the plant. This creates a sharper, more challenging surface.
Mulching also suppresses the growth of weeds, which will improve the health and general appearance of your plants and, once again, prevent pests. They act as a food source for many common insects, who will then move on to nearby plants for further consumption. Plus, having rampant weeds allows pests to hide and go undetected.
You can use several traps to banish pests from around the garden. A humane mouse trap will capture mice without causing them any harm. And a ‘sticky trap’ (card coated with glue) will lie at the foot of your plant to catch ants and other crawling insects. You can even create your own traps to take care of a variety of pests. For instance, to create a fruit fly trap, all you need is to hang a plastic bottle filled with a little syrup or fruit juice. This will act as bait for the fruit flies who will fly into the bottle but have difficulty getting back out.
Soaps & sprays
It’s surprisingly easy to create your own organic pesticides and apply them effectively using a spray bottle. A simple solution with a few drops of essential oils (like rosemary) can go a long way in helping to get rid of flies, ants and other insects. A garlic spray made with water and soap can also help to combat aphids and slugs. For more detailed recipes on how to create your own natural spray, keep an eye out on our knowledge hub for our next post.
You can also purchase insecticidal soap or make your own at home. This horticultural soap will rid your plants of spider mites, whiteflies, aphids and other insects. It is affordable, will leave no residue and will not harm your fruit or veggie plants or any beneficial insects. This soap also comes in a spray bottle for easier application and may need to be applied weekly to achieve the desired result.
Pest control tips & tricks
Listen to advice
It’s easy for anxious or overexcited gardeners to plough forward with applying their pest prevention methods. However, forgetting to read instructions properly or only skimming them can lead to the destruction of your plants. This is especially true (and even more dangerous) when using chemical methods. So, don’t get too far ahead of yourself. Always take the time to carefully examine the instructions before undertaking any pest control measures. Also, if you are still trying to figure out how to proceed, feel free to ask for advice from an expert at your local garden centre. After all, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Mark your methods
We recommend keeping a log of the pest control methods you are using and when you have applied them in your garden journal. This will allow you to understand what works for your space and what doesn’t. It will also prevent you from over-treating your plants. Which leads us on to our next tip…
Don’t assume that more is better
Less is more when it comes to pest prevention and control (especially if using chemicals). It’s best to start small and build up treatment rather than over-applying pesticides straight away. You will be more likely to cause harm to both your plant and growing environment this way. If in doubt, always hold back and monitor the health of your plant before proceeding to increase your chosen treatment. However, this tip does not apply if you have chosen to use a guard or plant fleece.
Remove weeds and debris
Many pests are attracted to and feed on weeds. Therefore, it’s important to keep on top of your garden maintenance and make sure to quickly pick any that sprout or apply a weed killer to your space. Removing any debris is also important as this will deprive pests of hiding places, thus making them easier to catch and dispose of.
Choose your plants carefully
There are some pest-resistant fruit and vegetable varieties available on the market, so carry out a little research before you purchase your plants. This saves both time and effort in the long run.
We’re sure you’re now ready to banish those pesky pests from your beautiful garden. Check out our pest control methods on our website now. Or, learn even more about how to make your garden great by checking out the articles on our knowledge hub. We’ve got posts on everything from how to create a garden journal to how to grow from food scraps. Plus, don’t hesitate to reach out to us on social media (@gardeningexpress), we would love to hear from you!