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Organic Insect Control in your Garden
by Brian Minter
by Brian Minter

email: mail@mintergardens.com

Brian is President of Minter Country Garden, an innovative destination garden center and greenhouse growing operation. He is a gardening columnist, radio host, international speaker and author.

His website is located at http://www.mintergardens.com/


July 15, 2007

It's awfully nice of you to share your garden with the ever increasing numbers of insects that seem to be appearing from nowhere these days, but if you're just a little amazed at the competition, there are many effective and organic ways of dealing with them. There have always been organic ways of controlling insects in our gardens, but somehow most of us have never taken the time or made the effort to use them. With so many chemical insect controls coming off the market recently, now may be a good time to start.

Organic insect control does not have to mean extra work, nor does it mean having to use organic controls on a daily basis to achieve effective results. Organic pest control starts with smart thinking. First and foremost, your garden should be clean. That means no weeds at any time of the year to act as host plants during any one of an insect’s life cycles. If you just don't have the time for all that weeding, inexpensive and effective weed barrier cloth is available to solve that problem. It works well and is so easy to use, especially if you use the heavier grades that really stop weeds.

Step two is getting your soil in shape. I sound like a stuck record talking about light, sandy soils, but they are far less inviting to the many insects that prefer heavy, wet soils. Sand and bark mulch or sawdust (fir or hemlock), added to lighten and open up your heavy soils, really makes a huge difference. Also using raised beds that are higher and drier will help minimize soil insects.

Step three is smart garden planning. If you have been having trouble with cabbages, radishes and turnips for years, why grow them? Grow plants you enjoy, but that have fewer problems. Pole beans, broad beans, parsnips and cucumbers are usually pretty good. Be more selective in the flowers you plant too. When is the last time you saw insects or slugs attack fibrous begonias or impatiens?

After years of reading 'Organic Gardening' magazine, the obvious and most effective way of controlling virtually all insects is the use of row covers. They too are cheap and easy. Light Remay coverings, simply draped over young seedlings and held down with soil, can stay in place until the plants mature. The plants are warmer, grow faster and insects can't get at them. It works well for leaf miner on beets and Swiss chard and is also great for carrot rust fly.

If all this fails, there are organic pesticides now available that really work. A dynamic little bacteria called Bacillus thuringiensis, (commonly known as ‘B.T.’) is one of the best controls for many chewing insects. Once you spray it on (read the instructions first) most insects stop feeding immediately, and within 3 days they are gonzo. You have to use it on a regular basis, say once a week, as long as you see those cute little moths and white butterflies flitting about your flowers and veggies.

Silicon dioxide, the proper name for diatomaceous earth, which is a powder made from deposits of ancient creatures called diatom, seems to be all the rage today. Many companies are producing it under different labels, but, used on a regular basis for many crawling insects, it seems to be doing a fairly good job. Fleas are not that happy about it either. Use it on pet beds, in kennels and on their bodies. The jury is still out on slug control.

There are many 'soap' products available today, but the ones with more broad spectrum control, like Safers 'Trounce', are seemingly more successful. Don't forget we've had pyrethrins and many other products available to us for years, and they do a reasonably good job too. The secret for all of them, however, is timing. The best insect control is careful observation. When the insect population is huge and your plants are half gone, it's too late. Preventative organic spraying on a weekly basis, when you've had problems in the past, really works.

Planting flowers and shrubs that attract birds and setting out bird baths will help you gain some valuable allies in your battles. A package of ladybugs or praying mantis released in your garden will help too. Nematodes are proving to be very effective for weevil control on all our rhododendrons and broad-leaved evergreens. Friendly insects are becoming great allies in our gardens.

You see, organic insect control is really that easy - all it takes is a good mind set and a new way of thinking.

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