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Before you go out and start buying things to solve a specific garden problem, consider these rules:
- Don’t ever use toxic poisons. Poisons kill, and that is not the goal of gardening. When you use a broad-spectrum insecticide, you will kill all insects, including the ones that work to your benefit. You will kill the good bugs, and it will take them longer to return to your garden than it takes the pests. Poisons make plants and people sick. They don’t work, and they make everything worse, so stop using them. Right now.
- Weak plants are more susceptible than strong plants to pests and diseases. Often when we see a pest, we look at the pest, not the plant. Next time, look closely at the plant. Is it getting enough sun, too much sun, enough water, too much water? Is the soil poor or fertile? We know that a plant that demands sun just won’t do well in the shade, but we don’t always remember that when we look at that plant and see aphids. If you can dig up the plant and put it in a spot where it will be happy, that is the best solution. A weak plant is signaling for pests and will cause problems for its healthier neighbors.
- Dead soil encourages dead plants. The health of your garden is directly related to the health of your soil. Soil that is not alive with earthworms, microbes, fungi, and other soil organisms cannot support healthy plants. So bring your soil back to life by adding organic material—compost and mulch. Spraying with a mixture of seaweed, fish emulsion, and molasses will encourage those soil creatures and add nutrients to the soil at the same time.
- Diversity protects everything in the garden. When you encourage lots of different kinds of life in the garden, you encourage all life. Pests generally hone in on their prey by smell. By planting many different kinds of plants—natives, roses, vegetables, herbs—you will discourage pests and encourage the predators that help in your fight against pests.
- Encourage bugs. Although it may go against your nature, your best friends in the garden are bugs that eat other bugs. Ladybugs, lacewings, wasps, spiders, giant wheel bugs, praying mantises, and others are helpful in keeping pests under control. When you use a pesticide, you kill all the bugs—good and bad—and the bad will always come back first and stronger. (I said it before. I’ll say it again. It’s important to remember.)
- Repel pests. There are several products and plants that are unappealing to pests. Planting garlic (and other members of the onion family) throughout the garden is a good way to repel a wide variety of pests. Strong-smelling herbs are unattractive both to big pests like deer and tiny bugs.
- Have fun. Remember that you do not have to be a gardener. You do this for pleasure, for relaxation, for tomatoes, for a sense of superiority, or for a feeling of self-reliance. In any event, it should be enjoyable most of the time.
While you are working on getting your soil more fertile and your plantings more diverse, you may have problems. When looking for a product to help solve your problems, be as specific as you can. Look for something that targets your specific pest or disease. Don’t ever buy something that promises to “kill everything.” Keep seeking a balance in your garden, and you will be amazed at the results. You’ll work less, enjoy it more, and be the envy of all your neighbors.
Cover Courtesy of Texas A&M University Press
Excerpted from When Good Gardens Go Bad by Judy Barrett with permission from Texas A&M University Press. Veteran author and pioneer organic gardener Judy Barrett offers safe, practical, and inexpensive advice for handling common garden problems and challenges.