The idea of welcoming wildlife to our outdoor spaces seems like something easy enough to get behind, that is until it comes to unwanted garden pests. The go-to solution for getting rid of pests is to spray your garden with a little bit of a chemical pesticide. The pests are eliminated, but your flowers and veggies can continue to thrive. This seems like a pretty simple solution, but there are some unintended consequences that come with using chemical pesticides. Sure, pesticides kill the aphids feeding on your tomato plant, but they also have the potential to severely reduce the population of welcome garden guests. Pesticides harm these non-target species directly by poisoning them, or by killing off major food sources for species who rely on garden pests for food. In addition, pesticide runoff is a huge problem that can end up contaminating local groundwater and streams. Pesticide contamination can affect and destroy entire food chains and usage has also been linked to the killing of important non-insects like bats and frogs. So how can we make sure our gardening practices keep pests at bay without harming many of the beneficial creatures we want in our outdoor spaces? Check out our top 5 tips:
1. Healthy soil = healthy gardens
One of the best ways you can set your garden up for success is to make sure the soil is healthy before you start planting. Healthy soil means healthier plants and, “since most insects attack diseased plants, both diseases and insect pests decline in healthy soils.”
So how do you make sure your soil is healthy? You’ll want to start by figuring out what type of soil you have and then do a soil test to figure out what amendments you need to add, such as adding more organic matter or balancing the soils pH. Tip: For about $10, Hamilton County residents can request a soil testing kit from the Hamilton County Soil & Water Conservation District. Not a Hamilton County resident? Check with your local extension office, most have soil testing resources.
Check out this great article from The Spruce for a more detailed look at how to make sure your soil is healthy.
2. Know your space + Plant correctly
It’s important that we’re realistic about what plants are best suited for our spaces. If tomatoes are your favorite summer snack, but your garden is covered in shade for most of the day, crossing your fingers and buying six tomato plants is not going to give you the best results. As we mentioned above, healthy plants aren’t as appealing to pests. If you set yourself up for success by planting things you know will do well based on the conditions of your outdoor space then your garden will be a much less welcoming place for pests.
How do you know what’s right to plant in your outdoor space? Start by making a sun map, this will show you where and how long sun shines in your garden. That way when you pick what to plant in your garden you will know what sun requirements you’re looking for. Check out this article from Treehugger for tips on creating a sun map.
Once you’ve made your sun map and gathered the plants you’d like to put in your garden make sure you plant them correctly. If you are planting from seed, check out the planting instructions on the seed envelope. If you’re transplanting from pot to garden, check out the garden tag and make sure you give the transplanted plant a lot of TLC (for tips, check out this video). If you’re working with a container garden, make sure what you’re planting is suitable for the container so as to not overcrowd or outgrow it.
3. Correct Watering is key
Watering plants correctly is an important way to keep them healthy. It’s important to know what your plants’ water needs are and to keep an eye on newly planted garden additions to make sure they are able to establish healthy roots. Check out Missouri Botanical Garden’s guide to watering for considerations and ideas for ways to water efficiently. Speaking of water, if you’re looking to set up a rain barrel or rain garden in your outdoor space, check out our blog for best practices from two local experts.
4. What do you consider a pest?
One of the goals of our Welcoming Wildlife theme is to make us all reflect a bit on what we consider a pest. There are certainly creatures like aphids and mealybugs that are not great to see in the garden because they can harm plants. However, those unwanted guests have natural predators and those bugs should be welcome in your garden. So if you see a bug in your garden, don’t panic! Know how to differentiate between the harmful and beneficial pests, and monitor the situation before you start spraying after seeing one aphid. You can also check out Gardening Know How’s tips for attracting beneficial insects to your garden.
Insects aren’t the only creatures that gardeners don’t enjoy seeing in their gardens. There are many other creatures like rabbits and deer that can cause damage to plants. In the spirit of welcoming wildlife, we encourage you to get to know these wild neighbors! The Humane Society of the U.S. has TONS of resources for living with animals we consider to be garden pests, check it out here. Each animal has its own page where you can learn a bit more about it and find humane solutions for deterring them from getting in your garden.
5. If you can’t avoid pesticides
At the end of the day, you are the person who knows your garden the best. If you’ve done your best to keep your garden happy and healthy but you still think you have a pest problem, it’s best to assess your options before going straight to chemical pesticides. Purdue University put together a great guide that details how to keep your garden healthy and best practices for using pesticides if you see no other option. They offer four strategies you can explore before you turn to chemical pesticides:
If you do choose to use pesticides, make sure you check out Purdue’s very informative guide to selecting the pesticide that is right for you. There top tips are as follows:
- Read the label (yes, all of it!): Pesticide labels contain a lot of important information. Most importantly, the label should include directions for safely applying pesticides so you can best avoid harming humans, pets, and other wildlife. The label also includes legal considerations. Because pesticides are toxic chemicals, using them incorrectly is a violation of the law.
- Check your inventory: Before you head out to buy a new product, check your supplies to see what you already have. Disposing of unused pesticides is not a simple task.
- Know the problem you’re trying to solve: You need to have a good understanding of the issue you are having and the pests you are trying to deter before going out to purchase a pesticide.
- “Always choose the least toxic product that you can apply at the lowest rate to achieve pest control”: For more information on what types of pesticides to look for and what specific phrases mean on the bottle, check out Purdue’s guide.
- Don’t assume natural and organic products are safe: Pesticides are designed to kill and deter so just because a product is “natural” doesn’t mean it isn’t dangerous.
Your considerations for pesticides shouldn’t end when you’re done treating your garden. There are many other important considerations that come into play after pesticides are used. Some of these considerations include:
- Proper pesticide storage: The National Pesticide Information Center put together this useful guide.
- How long until it’s safe for others, especially small children and pets to be in the area where pesticides were used?: See the label on the pesticide container for more information
- Cleaning: This includes cleaning any equipment used to apply pesticides as well as showering and washing any clothing worn during pesticide application.
- Proper pesticide disposal: Cincinnati residents can visit the Hamilton County Recycling and Solid Waste District’s website for more information about pesticide disposal in the city.
We wish you the best of luck with your gardens this spring and summer! If you’re looking for more pest control tips or garden guidance, join Imago’s Green at Home Facebook group! It’s a hub for all things sustainability at home where you can ask questions or share resources about pesticides or anything else sustainability related. Join here. To explore our other Welcoming Wildlife resources, visit imagoearth.org/welcoming-wildlife/.