Gardening is not only about the joy of planting seeds and watching them become food. Sometimes it is a masterful game of chess in which certain animals are trying to take our tomatoes and lettuce, and we have to devise a strategy (pesticide is not a viable strategy!) for protecting our harvest.
There are many options for going about this: companion planting, crop rotation, and DIY pest repellents. But, one of the best ways for controlling garden pests is inviting their predators to the party. Though many One Green Planet readers are plant-based eaters, the same cannot be said for the entirety of the animal kingdom. Nature designed some animals to survive by eating other animals, and the ecology goes round and round.
For gardeners looking to do things organically, hoping to tap into biodiversity, these are very handy animals to have around in terms of pest control.
It’s a good idea to build a little pond in or next to the garden area because frogs and toads are serious about feeding on insects. And, even better, they aren’t so interested in eating the garden plants. A healthy population of frogs and toads will go a long way in keeping the pest population subdued.
Lizards are also valuable animals to have in the garden. They, too, happily feed on insects but show sparing interest in the plants, except maybe for hunting perches. To make lizards feel at home, it’s a good idea to construct a pile of rocks here and there or even a stack of rotting wood.
Sticking with garden reptilian, snakes may provide a serious fright from time to time, but for the most part, they are good friends to the gardener. Many snakes like to snack on insects, and others are quite good at keeping rodents and burrowers at bay, as well as snails and slugs. Snakes like a good place to hide, such as beneath a stump or piece of plywood.
Bats are another good addition to the garden party. When night falls, they are wicked predators, snatching garden pests and mosquitos right out of the air. They are especially into moths, which create plant gobbling caterpillars. Bats also make great fertilizer. They can be attracted by constructing a simple bat house.
While some birds can be a little problematic in the garden, most are downright fantastic guests. They provide nice songs, vibrant flashes of color, and good fertilization. And, they are no friends of pests, often gobbling them up all the live long day. Birds love a bird bath, hedges to nest in, and birdhouses.
Spiders, like snakes, can provide a solid fright in the wrong circumstances, but they are also valuable pest predators. They don’t eat plants at all, but some spin webs between them and catch a buffet of unruly bugs. Other spiders burrow into the ground and find the insects causing trouble there. Web-spinners like perennial herbs to set up in, and ground dwellers appreciate natural mulches.
Predatory insects are fantastic garden friends, and a strong, diverse population of them can prevent most pest outbreaks. They are able to get into places larger predators are not. They can maneuver deftly. They are vicious hunters that are necessary for a balanced ecosystem. That’s why pesticides are not an option: The predators suffer as well. Here are some of the best predatory insects for the garden:
- Praying Mantids eat a huge variety of insects, including leafhoppers, aphids, and mosquitoes, and they also like caterpillars. Larger adults might feast upon beetles, grasshoppers, and crickets.
- Beneficial Nematodes are more or less microscopic, and they don’t deal with leaf-eating pests. However, they are very effective against ground dwellers like cutworms, grubs, and crown borers.
- Assassin Bugs, like praying mantids, are generalist predators, meaning they feed on just about any garden pest. Assassin bug larvae, as well as adults, like to feed on aphids, caterpillars, spider mites, and insect eggs.
- Lady Bugs, though often viewed as pests themselves, at least in the house, are garden guests. Not only are they pretty to look at, but they are terminators of pesky pests like aphids, mites, and scale. Ladybugs like chives, cilantro, dill, and calendula.
- Green Lacewings like to eat soft-bodied insects, such as mealybugs and spider mites, as well as pest eggs. The larvae are very active predators, but the adults are not. However, adults lay eggs to create more larvae.
A healthy garden with minimum pest problems and high organic production requires some cooperation with nature, and that means working with the animals that will naturally protect the crops. Before long, the garden will be acting like a real ecosystem.
Lead image source: paulket1968/Pixabay