A truly healthy garden requires using natural methods for pest control. However, it is also important to understand that a healthy garden does not mean a bug-free garden. In fact, a flurry of insect activity can indicate that your garden is healthy, thriving and alive.
Good Guys vs. Bad Guys
It is important to get familiar with the insects that are common where you live so you can learn to recognize the good bugs and the bad bugs. Many fledgling gardeners are surprised to learn that many of the bugs they see on their plants are actually helping them to have a beautiful, productive garden.
By encouraging beneficial insects, you will build a natural control against the insects that like to destroy your garden plants. For example, when you see curled, yellow leaves you may suspect green lacewings as the culprit if that is the insect you are seeing on your plants. In fact, the green lacewing is helping you control your aphid population, which is the actual cause of your plant’s problems. The praying mantis is another example. While it may look intimidating, it will eat nearly any other insect it can find including moths, grasshoppers and even other mantises.
Problems with Pesticides
As an organic gardener, you likely look for pesticides that are natural to do the least amount of damage to the environment. However, just because a pesticide is labeled as natural, it doesn’t mean it is a harmless substance. After all, if it was harmless it wouldn’t kill the pests.
In addition to killing the unwanted insects, you may also be killing the helpful insects in your garden. An article from Berkley University made an interesting comparison between the organic pesticides rotenone and pyrethrin and the synthetic pesticide imidan.
Two applications of imidan provide the same results as seven applications of rotone-pyrethrin mixture. Rotone is known to be toxic to aquatic life so seven applications of it may do more harm to the environment that two applications of the synthetic pesticide.
So, what’s a gardener to do?
Go with the Flow
Gardeners who want to do things organically may need to reconsider what is important to them. Do you need to have a picture-perfect garden or can you be content with a natural garden. A natural garden includes a few insects and may include some yellow or chewed leaves.
Unless you have a very heavy infestation, most insects don’t kill your plants. Their damage is usually just aesthetic. If you can tolerate light damage to your plants, you’ll go a long way toward a more organic landscape.
You can also focus on using plants that are naturally pest-resistant. Keep your plants healthy by making sure they are planted in the best location for their needs and ensure they have the nutrients required for optimal growth and health. Spacing is important as well. Overcrowded plants will not be happy or healthy. A healthy plant is rarely attacked by insects, so if you have a plant with problems, you may want to address its health first and foremost.
Consider hand-picking as a part of your pest management plan and encourage natural predators to take up residence in your garden. Let them do the work for you! You can even purchase beneficial insects to help you with your pest problem.
If all else fails and you just have to spray, do your research. Learn what your specific pest is by taking a sample of the pest or damaged plant to your county Extension Office for identification. Then choose a control that is least harmful while still giving you the needed results. Don’t assume more is better and always follow the directions on the pesticide. And don’t think you have to spray everything in your yard. Focus on the affected areas instead.
When it comes to pesticides, even those labeled organic, less is always more.