by Bethany Hayes
Pests are a gardener’s worse nightmare. They damage and destroy once healthy plants within a short period, ruining all of your hard work. Many pests are resistant to conventional treatments, which is why learning organic pest prevention methods are essential.
Preventing garden pests needs to be the prime focus for all gardeners, regardless of whether you practice organic gardening. We know that many insecticides and pesticides are ineffective, so avoiding the problem entirely is how you increase the likelihood of a healthy, pest-free garden.
Let’s learn all about this crucial part of your organic garden maintenance plan.
Why Pest Prevention Methods Are Important
Any gardener who has been at this for a while can tell you that dealing with pests is part of the deal. No one escapes this reality; even expert gardeners face severe pest infestations from time to time.
The reason why pest prevention methods are so crucial is that preventing garden pests is far easier and less time consuming than dealing with pest outbreaks in your garden.
Then, we have the problem of pesticide sprays. We know that using pesticides is toxic to our soil health and the plants themselves. Also, if you spray pesticides on vegetable plants, it ends up in the food you feed to your family.
What about homemade and organic sprays? Are they safer?
Homemade and organic sprays contain fewer harmful chemicals, but pesticides of any kind can kill off beneficial insects that your garden needs, including pollinators. Killing beneficial insects and organisms damages your garden, as well as laters the pH balance of the soil. Some organic sprays even destroy the soil microbes that help your plants grow.
So, while these sprays are safer for human consumption, that doesn’t mean you want to spray your plants with anything.
Using all of the best pest prevention methods drastically reduces the chances you will ever need to use pesticides, homemade or not. Let’s look at how to prevent pests in your garden.
How to Prevent Pests in Your Garden
Preventing pests starts from the ground and works its way up – literally. Take a look at some of the best methods for preventing pests in your garden.
1. Make Sure Your Soil is Healthy
The first step to preventing pests is ensuring you have healthy soil, which leads to healthy plants with robust immune systems capable of fighting off pests and diseases. Healthy soil is alive with beneficial microbes and organisms, as well as earthworms and beneficial insects.
How do you create healthy soil? Here are some easy tips.
- Spread compost each year to add vital nutrients that your plants need for growth.
- Use natural fertilizers to build up healthy soil.
- Apply fish or seaweed fertilizer once a month encourages soil microbes.
- Avoid using any sort of chemicals that might destroy the healthy organisms and microbes.
- Don’t till your garden. This goes against the common task of tilling in the spring. Instead, use garden forks to aerate your garden beds to avoid damaging the soil structure.
- Keep your soil covered at all times, or weeds appear, and soil erosion takes place. Cover bare earth with mulch or a living ground cover. A cover crop stops weed growth and feeds your soil at the same time.
2. Grow Resistant Varieties
One of the easiest ways to prevent pests in your garden is to pick plant varieties that are naturally resistant to common pests in your area. Most seed catalogs or seed packets list if the plant is resistant to any pests or diseases.
It’s essential that you select varieties resistant to pests in your regional area. Not all pests are in your area, so talk to other gardeners and research what insects you might encounter.
3. Practice Crop Rotation
Without a doubt, one of the most important things to do to prevent pests in your garden is to use crop rotation. For years, average backyard gardeners believed that crop rotation was for farmers with large fields, capable of leaving fields fallow for years.
That myth is wrong, and all gardeners need to use crop rotation to their advantage to avoid pests.
Why is crop rotation so important?
Some pests overwinter in the soil, so if you plant their favorite snack in the same place next year, they wake up starving. Not to mention, diseases live in the soil for years, so you don’t want to plant the same things in the garden bed where a disease once was.
Crop rotation also confuses pests, manages soil fertility, and reduces pest concentrations in specific areas.
Your goal is to put your crops in a three to four-year rotation, avoiding planting members of the same family in the same spot. That can be tricky if you have a small garden. Creating a plan is useful; draw it out each year to avoid overlapping and make it easier for you to understand the process.
4. Ensure Proper Sunlight is Provided
Always make sure that your plants receive the necessary amount of full sunlight. Providing the right amount of sun keeps your plants healthy, and we know that healthy plants fight off pests.
Crops tolerate less than ideal conditions, but that leads to stress over time, weakening your plants. That makes it easier for the plants to succumb to pests.
5. Give Your Crops Space to Breathe
Overcrowding plants is a huge no-no. It’s easy to squeeze as many plants as possible into your garden bed; we want all of the vegetables possible, but that isn’t what is good for your crops.
Tightly planted crops have several problems. First, overcrowding leads to a breeding ground of fungal diseases; fungus loves moist, wet, warm situations. Second, pests also love tightly planted crops because they provide shelter, warmth, and cover from predators. Pests hatch their families in your crops, and you never are the wisest because you cannot see them.
If, for some reason, planting close is your only option, check for pests more frequently. Otherwise, you’ll be the last to know that you have an infestation problem on your hands.
6. Attract Beneficial Insects
Not all insects are harmful. Some insects that call your garden home are beneficial, and they prey on the pests that might damage your plants. Gardeners can release beneficial insects, but it’s much easier to attract them to your garden as they search for pollen, nectar, and shelter.
Examples of beneficial insects are ladybugs, lady beetles, lacewings, minute pirate bugs, parasitic wasps, and damsel bugs. These insects eat the pests for lunch like some tiny superheroes.
Here are some ways to attract beneficial insects to your garden.
- Plant annual flowers in your garden, like calendula and marigolds, that attract insects looking for pollen.
- Provide habitats for insects to lay their eggs nearby, allowing them to grow and pollinate throughout your garden.
- Avoid using chemicals and sprays that might kill your helpful insects.
7. Use Row Covers
Covering your plants with floating row covers after planting seedlings is one way to prevent pests from taking over. Make sure you use a summer weight row cover that allows water and light to penetrate while keeping pests out.
Row covers are beneficial to prevent adult pests from leaving eggs on plants or in the soil. For example, cover your cabbage seedlings with a row cover to prevent cabbage moths or cabbage butterflies from laying eggs on the plants.
The only downside to using row covers is that it stops pollinators from getting inside. When the flowers appear on your plants, you’ll need to remove the row covers, but most plants are stronger and healthier by that time.
8. Interplanting Crops
Interplanting means that you alternative crops, herbs, and flowers to confuse the pests. Planting only one type of crop in your garden bed is called monocrop, and that is what garden pests enjoy. It makes it easy for them to find what they want to eat.
Rather than planting only one type of crop in a garden bed, alternating rows of vegetables with flowers and herbs attract beneficial insects while confusing pests that are looking for particular crops.
9. Plant Flowers and Herbs to Repel Pests
Strong-scented herbs and flowers deter pests when planted near vegetable plants. It’s an easy way to repel pests without needing to use chemicals to repel them.
Look for herbs and flowers that are aromatic. That’s the key to deterring pests; they don’t like the strong scents. You can put these plants in the corners of your garden beds, in pots throughout your garden, or create rows of herbs as borders.
Here are some strong-scented flowers and herbs to plant in your garden to repel pests.
10. Plant Some Crops in Pots
Here’s another trick to prevent pests from finding your crops – physically keep them away from the pests. Grow some of the vegetables in pots that are at least 18 inches above the ground. Doing so keeps the plants out of the reach of low-flying pests as well as soil-borne pests.
If you don’t want to use containers, try taller raised beds. Pests are unable to crawl into the raised beds if they’re around 12-18 inches deep.
11. Harvest Frequently
Last, falling behind on your harvest is generally not an issue unless they start to fall off the plants, landing on the soil. Those fallen fruits become a beacon for hungry pests, looking for an easy meal.
Another problem is that lingering fruit and vegetables send your entire plant into decline and stress. They aren’t growing to their maximum potential. Weak plants are an easy invitation for pests to visit.
So, if you miss some fruits, that’s no big deal, but make sure you clean up any fallen fruits. If you let your harvests sit too long on your plants, give them a small dose of fertilizer for an easy pick-me-up.
Prevention is Easier Than Treatment
Learning how to prevent pests from invading your garden is essential for all gardeners. Prevention is always easier than trying to stop pests that are already infesting your plants.
It might seem hard to remember these tips, but most involve keeping your soil and garden healthy. A healthy garden with soil full of microbes and beneficial insects buzzing around won’t be where harmful pests want to hang out.