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Thursday, January 24, 2013

3 Ways to Keep a Pest-free Garden

Jessica Walliser
Hobby Farms Contributor

Try these three methods to keep pests out of your garden: kaolin clay, predators and yourself. Photo by Jessica Walliser (HobbyFarms.com)
Photo by Jessica Walliser
Plant crops in your garden to attract birds and beneficial insects that prey on pests.

In last week's post, I discussed a couple of excellent pest-prevention techniques you can easily employ in your own garden. Here are a few more of my favorites:

1. Kaolin Clay
A white, powdery clay, kaolin is mixed with water and sprayed onto plants. When dry, it forms a dusty coating on plant leaves and fruits. Insects don’t like landing on the powder, nor do they like how it clings to their legs and wings. In the veggie patch, it works to deter flea beetles on eggplants and radishes, as well as leafhoppers on other crops. These products are very effective in the organic orchard, where they prevent both codling moth and plum curculio.

Kaolin clay needs to be reapplied every 14 to 21 days to remain effective, and the plants will be covered with a white powder. It’s easy to wash off of harvested crops and is completely safe. (In fact, it’s an ingredient in many toothpastes and Kaopectate.) One commonly found brand of kaolin clay is Surround WP.

2. Predators
Beneficial insects and birds consume copious amounts of garden pests, and encouraging them to call your garden home prevents a lot of damage. Situate a bird bath and feeder in the center of the garden. Plant sunflowers, amaranth and other favorite seed sources among the vegetables. To attract beneficial insects, such as ladybugs, lacewings, parasitic wasps (don’t worry, they’re tiny and they can’t sting) and hoverflies, plant plenty of herbs in the veggie patch and allow them to bloom. The adults will feed on the nectar of these small flowers while the larvae (and sometimes the adults, too) feast on aphids, hornworms, mites, mealy bugs and other assorted nasties.

3. You
It’s not the nicest thought, but sometimes your actions may be the cause of a pest problem. Perhaps you applied too much nitrogen fertilizer and now your tomato has put out a lot of tender growth that is particularly appealing to aphids. Maybe you walked through the garden when the soil was wet, compacting it, thereby reducing the overall vigor of your plants and making them more prone to insect attacks. Did you leave debris in the garden, providing a safe hiding place for slugs and earwigs? Perhaps you neglected to pull out your spent plants last season, helping over-wintering pests to return. Take a look at what you do in your garden and make sure you are maintaining proper cultural practices. This is an easy, and often overlooked, method of preventing pest problems.

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Reader Comments
Good advice.
Galadriel, Lothlorien, ME
Posted: 7/17/2013 11:27:22 PM
Very informative article! I garden quite a bit even considering conversion to hoop green house. I benefited from this idea and will look further into resources where I may obtain kaolin clay.
Eric, Kaneville, IL
Posted: 2/20/2013 6:44:21 AM
Thank you and very much appreciate the tip, Jessica.
Dante, Hyde Park, MA
Posted: 1/30/2013 7:19:49 PM
Thanks Lynda! And, Dante, the kaolin clay products do look dusty on the leaves and it can be difficult to tell it apart from powdery mildew. One easy way to tell the difference is that the kaolin clay will wash off after a heavy rain and the powdery mildew will not. As for the squash vine borers, in my experience kaolin clay is not very effective against them. I prefer to wrap a two-inch-wide strip of aluminum foil around the base of my squash plants, right where the stem meets the soil. The female vineborers can't access the stems to lay their eggs if the foil is in place. They can do it further up the vine but the base is the most vulnerable place. That's where the protection is most needed.
Jessica, Sewickley, PA
Posted: 1/29/2013 9:07:44 AM
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