If you are attempting to keep toxic chemicals out of the equation and grow organically, then striving for balance is the key to maintaining a healthy garden. Small numbers of insects and other wildlife are acceptable, and most plants will find them to be a minor nuisance at best - providing you practice a little population and exclusion control.
A pest's population swelling to large numbers is when the real damage gets done. Keep them under control, and everyone can live in harmony without resorting to toxic chemicals.
Here are a few of the most common pests preying upon Arizona gardens and how you can safely deal with them without having to suit up in hazmat gear or conducting 24-hour guard duty in your backyard.
Controlling Insects Naturally
There are many alternatives to controlling a pest problem in the garden to getting out the toxic sprays and chemicals. Plants can be useful, not just for repelling pests, but also for attracting predatory insects that will happily chow down on the troublemakers.
Even better is that many of the plants you can use to control pest populations are also great for the kitchen or adding color to your garden.
Controlling Insect Pests with Herbs
A few popular herbs you can use in your garden for pest control include:
Dill - Helps to control aphids, shield bugs, spider mites, and caterpillars and it also tastes great in your potato salad. Dill is a plant you can use to attract pests, helping to keep them away from your favorites. Attracting the pests also helps to lure in natural predators that will roam all over your garden and prevent further outbreaks.
Mint - An aromatic herb that controls beetles, caterpillars, whiteflies, shield bugs, and aphids. It has a fresh aroma and makes a delicious, bright green garnish for pasta dishes and adding some zing to salads.
Catnip - This is another excellent plant for controlling a wide range of insects such as beetles, caterpillars, and shield bugs. It can also do double duty as rodent control because cats are naturally drawn to catnip, which won't be so great for any resident mice or rats.
Nasturtium - Aphids, caterpillars, shield bugs, and aphids won't stand a chance in your garden, as nasturtium helps ward off these pesky little critters as well.
Pest Control with Predatory Insects
Predatory insects can do most of the hard work of controlling pests for you while helping you maintain the natural order of things for a greener planet.
Ladybugs - These helpful little critters round up aphids as food for their young. When you see ladybugs flitting around your garden, you know that nature is in balance.
Lacewings - lacewings enjoy a varied diet of thrips, caterpillars, eggs, scales, leafhoppers, and aphids.
Parasitic wasps - Parasitic wasps are tiny and resemble small bees. They are an excellent pollinator as they hover from plant to plant in search of prey for their young, including caterpillars and aphids.
Spiders - Unless the spider poses a risk to yourself or your children, you should leave them in peace. They'll leave your plants alone but are great for population control of plant-eating pests.
Plants for Attracting Pollinators and Predators
Now that you know you can have an army of predatory insects working for you in the garden, you will need a few of their favorite plants to entice them into migrating to your little neck of the woods. Many of the following plants will also add a dash of color to your garden.
Cilantro - A favorite herb around the Southwest, especially for salsas, cilantro is perfectly adapted to the Arizona climate and grows well. The herb makes a great companion plant and will help attract a range of predatory insects to your garden.
Marigolds - These brightly colored flowers are a hardy little plant that produces a toxic chemical that kills root damaging nematodes.
Rosemary - This warm weather-loving plant is right at home in the Arizona garden and produces a lovely fragrance. Fortunately, mosquitos and flies don't find the odor so appealing, so try to plant a few in the locations around your home where you like to relax.
Thyme - This is another flavorful herb that repulses many of the smaller pests. It will need a little more care than rosemary, as it's not quite as hardy. Thyme does best in soil that drains well, and in a location where there is plenty of air circulation.
Controlling Rodents and Wildlife
Arizona is home to any number of animals that can harm your garden, damage your house, and even put your pets at risk. Not only will a lot of them eat your plants, but their foraging will also destroy surrounding plants that are not on the menu.
Here are a few tips you can use to keep your garden free of the larger pests roaming around the Southwest.
Keep Your Garden Tidy
Snakes may not pose much of a risk to your plants, but it can be a rude shock coming face-to-face with one when you're weeding, and risky if it's a venomous species.
Rodents and mice love to hide and make their nests in tall grass and piles of dead brush. Rodents attract snakes, so ensuring conditions aren't favorable for one means the other won't come visiting. I If you want to prevent rodents from digging up your garden and the appearance of snakes looking for an easy meal, keeping your garden tidy is an excellent place to start.
Cover Your Compost and Trash
A fresh batch of compost can be a buffet dinner for some wildlife living around your area. Coyotes are generally not dangerous to humans but can be if they're caught by surprise when rummaging through your compost or uncovered bin. Rabbits will also be attracted to an open compost pile with a fresh batch of kitchen waste.
Erect a Fence
Many of the garden wildlife pests around Arizona are of the cute and furry variety. You probably won't see them as such after you oversee the damage just a few unwelcome visitors can do to your lettuce crop.
The first thing you need to do is identify the culprit causing the damage. For instance, cottontail rabbits are often the bane of many Arizona gardeners, especially if you're growing vegetables or flowers. A garden recently visited by cottontail rabbits will have cleanly clipped stems on fresh, tender shoots and gnaw marks on woody plants.
Rabbits will hunker down in burrows or natural cavities during cold weather. In warmer weather, they will use brush piles and debris for shelter, so make sure you don't have any of these lying around your yard. If there's moisture available, such as a pet's water bowl, then expect your local rabbit population to avail themselves of it, and your tasty plants and flowers as well.
Rabbit control is relatively easy to achieve, as all you need to do is erect a two-foot chicken wire fence around the plants you want to protect. Make sure you bury the bottom end into the dirt up to two inches because rabbits aren't opposed to a little digging for a tasty reward.
Sprinkle Repellants Around Your Garden
Some natural repellants will make an area unpalatable to the local wildlife. Try castor oil, garlic clips, and even predator urine to scare off the herbivores. Keep in mind these control measures will wear off and quite quickly if it rains. Keep monitoring your garden and apply them as necessary.
Protecting Your Plants from Birds
Birds are lovely, aren't they? It's always a joy to watch our feathered friends frolicking in our backyard, but not so much when you've just put down a fresh batch of seedlings or have sown a new crop.
It's not just the new plants at risk, as birds are always on the lookout for fruits and berries from mature plants. You need to be careful when controlling bird damage, as most species around Arizona are protected.
In general, the best way to protect your plants is to prevent the birds from gaining access to them. Protect your harvest and new plants with netting. You will need to make sure to close off any access to inside the net because you don't want to trap any birds should they still decide to try their luck.
You can also control the bird population in your garden by using harmless deterrents like bird spiders which work great against pigeons.
Woodpeckers detest bright flashes of light, so a reflective woodpecker intimidator is a harmless way to keep them away from your precious trees.
Owls are natural predators for a lot of birds, which means a decoy owl in your garden will be enough to scare off most avian intruders. This model has a bobbling head that gives it a more lifelike appearance when it moves about in the breeze. Other models have flashing red eyes to deliver an ominous warning to hungry birds looking for an easy feed.
Pests in your garden are an unavoidable risk that every gardener takes. Complete eradication with chemicals is harmful to the environment, needs to be performed regularly, and can become expensive. Using natural solutions helps the planet, is long-term and sustainable and keeps the local wildlife and insect population in balance.
Over eons of agriculture, gardeners have learned that different species of plants benefit each other when planted close together. Despite centuries of anecdotal evidence, many skeptics in the gardening community still dispute the value of companion planting and use the lack of laboratory testing to back up their claims.
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