By Diana Dunn
Beautiful tomatoes, delicious ears of corn and zucchini are just some of the bountiful foods that are harvested from backyard gardens during the summer months. It is difficult to maintain a healthy garden, especially in the hot and dry months. Not to mention all the effort that is put into trying to prevent insects like aphids, grasshoppers and spider mites from devouring these plants. Local hardware stores have shelves full of products promising to eliminate backyard nuisances. Buyer beware! All too often we hear stories of a neighbor’s dog eating snail bait, or insecticides flowing into tiny creeks and eradicating the aquatic insect population. Especially following the tragic bee kill that took place in Oregon this past June, it seems like the real pests in our yards are actually the dangerous chemicals.
Common household pesticides do not just stay on the plants to which we apply them; they become part of our network of interconnected watersheds. There are a number of ways to grow a healthy garden and manage pests effectively and naturally. These management techniques may take more time, but are a better way to connect with biological processes taking place in our watersheds. Here are a few tips to reduce the need for pesticides in your garden.
- Attract and learn to recognize beneficial insects in your garden. Beneficial insects include: ladybugs, lacewings, spiders, mini-wasps and dragonflies. They are important to attract because they feed on common garden pests.
- Plant a variety of flowering plants rich in nectar or pollen. These plants can help attract beneficial insects to your garden.
- Identify and remove leaves that are covered with pests, but avoid excessive pruning, because some new growth can attract pests, like aphids.
- Identify and remove potential habitat for pests. For example snails like cool, dark, damp environments such as succulent ground cover. If you remove some of this potential habitat it helps prevent those pests from finding their way to your yard.
- Keep your plants healthy by adequately caring for them. Try to not overwater them during the dry summer. Over watered plants can become stressed and some pests are more attracted to vulnerable plants.
Insects are the most common creatures we see in the garden, and very few of them are pests. These invertebrates play an important role in the garden and are essential for the production of fruit, vegetables, and flowers. They are also an essential link in many food chains in our watersheds. So, taking care of our gardens is more than just managing the pests. It is also about thinking of how those insects play an integral role in our environment, and when we use products that are harmful to them, we are indirectly and potentially directly also harming ourselves. Insects have been on this earth for 400 million years, maybe it’s time we admire their resilience and contribution to our environment, gardens and watersheds.