Keep Your Garden Green – Without Chemicals

December 27th, 2013 BY Hilary Feldman | No Comments

Hopefully your garden is blooming by this time. Even if you live in a small space, houseplants flourish in the summer, and the smallest deck or balcony can be home to a few pots. However, even the most coddled plants can play host to some very pesky visitors. For me, it’s all about the aphids. Suddenly they appear and take over one plant. Then all its leafy neighbours start sporting yellow wilting patches and sticky stems. Ugh.

For various reasons, chemical treatments are out. There’s the local by-law prohibiting any residential use of pesticides, herbicides, and the like. Then there’s the cat, the kids, the dream of munching homegrown organic herbs and veggies. So what can be done to stop the ravenous march of insect (and other) pests?

• Start with native plants. These species are better suited to your climate and soil type, as well as being adapted to local pest species. They won’t require as much watering unless conditions are very unusual.

• Mix and match within a large container or garden bed. Plant diversity tends to cut down on pests, especially if you pair up certain plants and include less-appealing garlic or marigolds. When you offer a wide range of plants, this encourages wildlife diversity as well, including predators that eat pest species. You will enjoy fluttering butterflies and singing birds among other attractions. In fact, gardens with at least 10 appealing species, like lemon balm, attract more bees.

• Growing vegetables? Rotate them each year. This deters pests from becoming infestations, since preferred plants are moved out of the nearby area by the next season. Typically, similar types of plants will host similar pests – so peas and beans may have one particular problem species, while cucumbers and squashes will have another. Traditional North American plantings put complementary plants together – beans, corn, and squash – in a combination known as a “Three Sisters Garden”.

• Start with simple methods if aphids or other pests appear. Try spraying them off with a hose or squirt bottle. Use mild soapy water if you are desperate for results. Don’t hesitate to pick off pests and squish them by hand – it’s time-consuming but effective. Buy ladybugs or preying mantis to provide a healthy predator population. Spiders and other natural predators will be attracted to cooler areas, so apply a thin mulch layer or plant flowers and herb borders around crops. This will keep the soil shady and cooler so that helpful insects can thrive.

Other ways to green your garden include the following tips:

• Use compost to supply nutrients. Make your own from kitchen waste – it is like “black gold” for plants. Last year’s dry leaves are also very effective. Healthy plants resist pest infestations.

• Take the time to weed, since that removes plants that compete for soil and water resources, and that also may house pest species. Boiling water will kill weeds that have rooted between paving stones or bricks. Take out any other plant debris, like dead flowers or leaves, and be ruthless about pulling diseased plants.

• Use trees to shade your home, especially on the west side. Just remember that trees will grow and roots will spread, so give the house some clearance. Or you will be making friends with an arborist in the years to come.

• Avoid grass lawns if possible. They are the source of many problems, including chemical treatments like fertilizers and needing lots of water. If you do have a lawn, trim to a minimum of three inches and leave the clippings in place. The grass will appreciate recycled nutrients, shade, and better water retention. Helpful worms will frolic under such conditions, aerating your garden for free. Use a manual reel mower.

If larger animals are the problem, there are creative solutions. This article mentions ways to combat deer, rabbits, dogs, and cats.

No matter what, resorting to harmful chemical treatments is not the answer. An increasing number of municipalities are recognizing this fact and legislating against the use of pesticides and herbicides. After all, aphids may be annoying and unsightly, they may even kill your beloved plants, but they won’t kill you. The same cannot be said for toxic chemicals spread on the garden and lawn.

Photo credit: miss patricia@Flickr.com

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