5 Pest Barriers Worth Their Weight in Gold

Using pest barriers instead of pesticides is one way to be a smarter, more eco-friendly gardener. These easy-to-use measures deserve a place in every gardener's arsenal.

by Jessica Walliser
PHOTO: Jessica Walliser

Today’s gardeners don’t automatically reach for a spray bottle at the first sign of insect pests in the garden. Instead, we look for more natural approaches to pest control. We choose plant varieties with improved pest resistance, we plan our gardens carefully to make them less welcoming to invading pests, and we feed our plants a healthy diet of organic matter to boost their tolerance to pest damage. We also implement ways to protect our plants before pests even attack. These 5 pest barriers are useful tools for gardeners looking to limit damage from certain pests in the vegetable garden and orchard.

1. Cutworm Collars

Signs of a cutworm attack include seedlings mowed down at ground level and left scattered in the garden, girdled seedlings and seedlings that droop over at ground level. Cutworms are the caterpillars of several different night-flying moths. They live and feed just below the surface of the soil. At night, they prowl around the garden, severing seedlings from their root systems. Cutworm collars are pest barriers that are simple to employ, but they make a huge difference in the amount of cutworm damage that occurs.

You can make cutworm collars from empty toilet paper or paper towel tubes, empty yogurt cups with their bottoms cut out, or empty soup cans with both ends removed. Simply slide one collar around the base of each seedling and nestle it down into the soil by an inch. The cutworm caterpillars will hit the barrier in search of their nightly feast and find they cannot access the tender seedling growing inside.

2. Row Cover

This spun-bound, light-weight, translucent fabric is one of the best pest barriers around. Lay it on top of plants and pin the edges down to the soil to form a protective barrier and keep pests from laying eggs or munching on leaves. Large sheets of row cover can be draped over entire crop rows; smaller pieces can be used to cover just a few plants.

Row cover is one of those pest barriers that’s extremely important to use well in advance of the pests’ arrival. Use it to protect kale, cabbage and broccoli from imported cabbage worms, potato plants from Colorado potato beetles, and bean plants from the Mexican bean beetle. The only trick to using row cover pest barriers is to remember to remove them when the plants come in to flower, if they’re covering a veggie that needs to be pollinated in order to set fruit.

3. Fruit Bags

To protect young apples, peaches, pears, plums and other tree fruits from coddling moths, apple maggots, plum curculios and other pests, cover the fruits with plastic baggies or special fruit bags when they’re about the size of a nickel. This is a technique I’ve experimented with myself quite a bit with great results. Fruit bags take a bit of time to install, but when it comes to pest barriers, they can’t be beat. In the long run, they save a lot of time and expense by limiting pesticide applications, and if you put the bags on the fruits when you do your thinning, you don’t have to touch the tree again until harvest.

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4. Deer or Bird Netting

One of those absolutely essential pest barriers for many gardeners, deer netting is a must-have if you live where deer browse is high. You can use it to protect individual trees or shrubs, or you can use it to build a fence around your entire garden. Also useful for keeping birds out of the strawberry or blueberry patch, this fine, black, plastic netting can be used for many years if you care for it properly.

5. Cabbage Root Maggot Collars

Though this pest barrier isn’t quite as commonly needed as some of the others are, cabbage root maggot collars are highly useful if you grow cole crops in areas where this pest is common. I make my cabbage root maggot collars out of cardboard, though they can also be made from plastic. Here’s more on these pest barriers, including how to make them and how to put them in place.

These and other pest barriers are useful tools to have in your organic gardening tool belt. They limit pest damage before it occurs and that’s something all gardeners can appreciate.

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