Got Garden Pests? Here's How To Kick Those Unwanted Guests to the Curb
It’s late summer, your garden is in full swing and—here come the pests. Whether you have a yard full of hungry squirrels and rabbits, or you’re battling creatures of the microscopic variety, the chances are that your garden has seen at least a few unwelcome visitors this season.
Just so that you can stop a few pesky guests from destroying all your plants and flowers, we spoke with gardening experts from all over the country to bring you their top pest-control solutions. Here are some suggestions for kicking these five common garden pests to the curb.
1. Squirrels and rabbits
There’s nothing quite like a squirrel or rabbit rifling through your garden to make you wonder how all those Disney princesses could possibly have lived in harmony with them. (Answer: They didn’t have to deal with garden upkeep.
“The first line of defense would be a physical barrier, including fencing or netting,” says one avid gardener, Richard Reina of TOOLSiD.com. “Fences and nets need to be placed far enough into the ground to prevent critters from burrowing under.”
Another solution Reina likes to use is natural, homemade “pepper spray,” which you can make by mixing cayenne pepper with water or oil.
“When mixed with water, spray directly onto plants,” he says. “Mixed with oil, apply to the tops of raised garden beds. Animals avoid anything spicy, and the solution doesn’t harm plants.”
A word to the wise: Be sure to wear gloves when spraying, so you can avoid an unpleasantly spicy experience if you happen to rub your eyes.
“Beetles can be very challenging to get rid of, but luckily there are some options,” says Niels Thorlaksson, director of horticulture for Lettuce Grow.
“The first step would be to check on your plants regularly, flip the leaves over, and see if you can find little hot spots of pests and remove them by hand.”
If you find an abundance of beetles, Thorlaksson recommends treating plants with neem oil spray.
However, although it's naturally derived, neem oil is pretty powerful stuff. Be sure to test it out on a few plants before spraying the whole garden, and also to spray in the evening when temperatures drop, to avoid damaging your plants.
Aphids are bugs that feed by sucking sap from plants. They can reproduce quickly and cause extensive damage. While it might be tempting to start ripping all the infected leaves out of your garden, there are better ways to rid yourself of these tiny pests.
“Often sold as a plant fertilizer, a diluted seaweed concentrate in a water spray serves as an effective insecticide,” says Andrew Gaumond, a horticulturist at Petal Republic.
“Apply liberally to affected plants, and the seaweed will coat the leaves, fighting off the invading aphids.”
There's another way to get your visiting aphids to go away: Power-wash them.
“Water sprays are surprisingly effective for larger, more mature plants that can withstand the water pressure of a garden hose fitted with a spray nozzle,” says Gaumond.
“Simply spray the infected areas to remove the clinging aphids, and repeat as necessary throughout the spring and summer months, when you see them starting to return.”
4. Spider mites
Much like aphids, spider mites seem like an impossibly small pest to kick out—but master gardener Hannah Banshrift of I Beg Your Garden says that all is not lost.
“First of all, make sure you identify the pest correctly,” she says. “Each species of mite is different, and may or may not carry diseases that are harmful to people.”
Once you know for sure you have spider mites, Banshrift suggests starting off with a power spray similar to the one described above for treating aphids. If this doesn’t work, Banshrift recommends moving on to something stronger, like insecticidal soap or horticultural oil.
“Be sure to apply it on both sides of the leaves,” she says. “These types of products only kill mites by direct contact, and you should only apply it where you see the spider mites."
Keep in mind you may need several applications.
These slithering pests can make a big mess out of your garden. One way to keep these destructive slimeballs at bay is to simply let nature run its course.
“Encourage other wildlife—such as frogs, hedgehogs, and birds—into your garden, to enjoy dining out on a fresh slug,” says Gaumond.
Another way to deter slugs is by using a copper barrier.
“Simply lay a copper ring around the base of your plant, and any approaching slugs will get a form of electric shock should they come into contact with the copper,” he says.
Finally, our personal favorite method for getting rid of these guys involves a seminatural solution you’ll find just inside the fridge: beer traps.
"Slugs love the smell,” says Gaumond.
Just submerge a small pot in the ground, leaving the top uncovered and free from obstructions. Fill with 2 to 3 inches of beer.
"Any sort will do, though a hoppy IPA will definitely do the trick,” Gaumond says.
Check back every couple of days to clear out the captured slugs and pour in some fresh brew to start the process again.
Planting a pest-proof garden
If you’re looking for even more ways to combat your summer pest problem, keep in mind that your garden itself can actually be part of the solution. Jen Stark of Happy DIY Home fills us in on some of the best plants to place in your garden to repel pests.
“Chive plants repel aphids, Japanese beetles, and cucumber beetles,” Stark says, “while rosemary and sage deter carrot flies and cabbage moths.”
Mint is another effective natural repellent, keeping ants, aphids, and mosquitoes at bay.
“Lavender, on the other hand, attracts beneficial insects and pollinators to the garden, while repelling pests like spider mites and ants,” Stark adds.
Finally, consider adding some marigolds to your garden. These bright, flowering plants will not only keep out the leaf-hoppers, worms, beetles, and nematodes, but also release a chemical from their roots that acts as a toxin to grubs, mole crickets, and other burrowing garden pests.