Bugs – Garden Pests or the Food of Life?
Bugs – Pests, Insects, holes in your plants or stems stripped bare – bugs are everywhere,
chomping your vegetation and breeding rapidly…..but are bugs all bad?
To explain, first we have to take a step out of your garden. Humans are part of the great ecosystem of this planet, we don’t run the ecosystem of this planet. Secondly, and apologies for the cliche, but there is a circle of life as well, so if we cut out one part, life can’t circulate.
Plants get eaten by bugs, bugs get eaten by predators, predators get eaten by bigger predators etc and so on. So if bugs have a prolific breeding splurge – more predators are attracted to eat said bugs thus bringing it all back into balance. So we do need some bugs in the garden.
But, you cry – the bugs are still eating my plants! Well yes, although you will never prevent that happening entirely – but spraying will only prolong the problem.
Insecticides work by killing all insects, insecticides sprayed onto flowers can last on there for weeks, so will kill any insect that feeds off the plant or drinks the insecticide soaked nectar! The result is that although you kill the ‘pests’ you also kill the first rung of pest predators as well as killing all the useful insects too.
So you need to accept some ‘bad bugs’ in your garden, as they are the bottom rung of the food chain. These will attract predators which in turn attracts predators higher up the chain – everything starts eating everything and over a period of time Nature balances out the volume of pests with the volume of predators.
If you get infested with plant eating pests, it is most likely because you have been too zealous with spraying and thus you get trapped in a vicious circle of more and more spraying to deal with the problem.
You need to break this cycle and adopt a more balanced long term strategy.
Start by accepting you are not going to have a show garden with picture perfect plants and not a munch hole in sight.
Take a look at the plants you have – are there any flowers or plants that are attracting insects (other than aphids). If not, then your garden is not a balanced ecosystem. You need to plant more insect friendly flowers – helpfully we have a list right here!
Are there any plants that have been decimated by a bug attack – decide do you really love this plant enough to keep it in the garden and defend it every year?
Can you see hoverflies, ladybirds or lacewings? – These are the next level up the foodchain and either they or their larvae love aphids. So if you haven’t any, then you can attract them easily by planting more insect friendly flowers to attract them in. Once again have a look at our list on insect friendly plants.
Birds, Bats, Frogs, Beetles and Hedgehogs – All these are much more efficient bug hunters than you could ever be, so do not use slug pellets everywhere – you just kill larger predators who eat the poisoned slugs. Put up bird boxes, have a hole in the fence for a hedgehog, leave a little leaf debris in the flower borders for beetles to hide away in. And if you have bird feeders – put them high enough so cats can’t jump up and get the birds!
How many plants flower in your garden in the winter? – Bees forage for food on sunny winter days, so help them out with a few insect friendly flowering plants.
Don’t spray Flowers – If you do feel the urge to spray then you can minimise the damage with a little more thought. Insecticide lasts on the plants for some time, so if you spray into the flowers, you will kill any bee or butterfly that lands there, so if you really really have to spray, spray before the flowers have opened. Spray on a windless day and best for insects if you spray after they have tucked themselves up for the night, but moths come out to feed on flowers too, so either way….
Use a Soft Soap Spray – Liquid detergent especially the plant based eco ones are quite handy. The detergent spray ‘gums’ up the aphids, so they can’t breathe or move and then they die. The predators won’t eat the dead bugs – who would want a soapy taste in the mouth, but at least it won’t kill them.
Employ other defensive tactics! – There are loads of non insecticidal methods to tackling bugs without destroying all life in the garden…so try some of these – or in the case of the fish maybe not in a small suburban garden…!
- Garlic & Chilli Spray – Use 2-3 whole garlics, 12 hot chilli’s (or a tsp of powder), 1 tbsp vegetable oil, 3 squirts of washing up liquid (an eco one is best). Blitz in a processor and add approx 3 pints of water. Pop in a sprayer and spray on your plants. The theory is the bugs don’t like the taste so don’t eat your prize blooms!
- Fish Spray – not for the faint hearted this, but some leftover fish in a bucket and left to brew for a couple of weeks (at the end of the garden..!) strain and then spray the ‘essence’ over your plants – apparently bugs don’t like a rancid fish taste either – but then who does?
- Shiny Things – adding bits of tin foil or other shiny surfaces near your plants can help repel bugs (the light reflecting off them confuses bugs into missing your flowers apparently).
- Sticky Traps – These stick any insects to their surface, they are best used in greenhouses as they aren’t the most attractive things to have dangling around
- Molasses – 1 tbsp in some hot water along with some washing up liquid and sprayed onto plants, again the sticky molasses coats the aphids and suffocates them.
- Vinegar Spray – Use 1 tbsp per litre but don’t spray on a sunny day or the vinegar will burn the leaves.
- Boiled leaves – Boiled tomato or Rhubarb leaves left to infuse a couple of hours, strained and popped in a sprayer are supposed to be a useful ‘insecticide’
- Physical Barriers – Use netting and cloches to provide impenetrable barriers to bugs, remember though, if the bugs do get in, the barriers provide protection from bug predators as well.
- Sacrificial Plants – Why have beef when you can have steak said Paul Newman, so plant a fab food for bugs that is irresistible (Nasturtiums…) amongst your more favoured specimens.
- Companion Plants – These are plants that either attract lots of beneficial insects like hoverflies and ladybirds, or they help disguise the scent of your favourite plant by emitting their own scent – chives do both for example.
- Get a Duck – OK you won’t have any slugs……but maybe a bit radical for the average suburban garden?
- Love a Hedgehog – These are some of our best bug hunters – and more cute and less messy then ducks, so always make sure any hedghog can get in and out of your garden easily. Have a little hedgehog ‘hotel’ and don’t use slug pellets!
We hope you are more convinced of the benefits of biodiversity. If you have been a sprayer and are lovers of non-insect friendly flowers, we hope you can see how being a little more diverse can bring a wealth of beneficial life to your garden. It will take time for the natural balance to be restored.
Keep the faith Nature always gets it right if we let Her.
We have some insect-friendly border designs for you to download – which look great but they are good for the bees too.
All the above pest control remedies are provided for information purposes only.