Gardening is a relaxing hobby for some and a way of life for others. Regardless of why a person maintains a garden, they will want to keep it as healthy as possible. Gardens are susceptible to pests, which can destroy plants and flowers. While it is common practice to use pesticides, it is important to consider what types of pesticides are right for the environment and one’s health. There are many concerns about the use of synthetic pesticides, which have caused an increase in organic growing methods. There are many benefits that are associated with organic pest removal methods. To fully understand and appreciate these benefits, people should understand the pests that plague their gardens and how synthetic chemicals can be harmful.
When it comes to gardening, pests are a common complaint and concern for many. There are numerous types of pests that can plague gardens, and many are of the insect variety. These can be a nuisance in small numbers and a destructive force when a garden becomes infested. The type of garden pest can vary by plant or by one’s location. Common types of insect garden pests include aphids, Japanese beetles, whiteflies, and slugs, to name a few. Aphids, for example, are extremely common pests that can be found on a host of different plants. They are insects that pierce plants and suck out the sap. They expel some of the sap from their guts as a sticky substance known as honeydew. Feeding damages the plant and distorts leaves, and the honeydew feeds the growth of sooty mold. The mold turns black and further causes damage to the plant by preventing photosynthesis.
The Japanese beetle is another common pest that attacks around 350 different species of plants that range from ornamental plants to vegetables and fruits. The insect feeds between the veins of plant foliage, leaving only a skeleton behind. Whiteflies are yet another common garden pest. Like aphids, there are many different species (as many as 1,200), which feed on a variety of different plants. The plants that are attacked range from sweet potatoes and tomatoes to fuchsia, bearded iris, and more. They are extremely difficult to get rid of and are more similar to aphids than they are to traditional flies, despite their name. They are problematic for plants in that they are sap-sucking and capable of transmitting plant viruses. They excrete honeydew on plants as a result of their feeding and cause black sooty mold to growth on leaves. Plants become stunted from the feedings, and could potentially die.
There are numerous downsides to using synthetic pesticides that support the case for switching to organic measures. Chemicals found in synthetic pesticides permeate and poison the soil and can remain for years. They also are found in the fruits and vegetables that are grown in the soil. In some cases, fruits are more susceptible to pesticides and can carry large amounts of residue from them. As a result, these pesticides end up in the food that makes its way onto family tables and into the hands of children. Certain synthetic pesticides can have a negative effect on human health, including birth defects, male sterility, and even cancer. Another serious environmental concern is the damage that pesticides can cause to beneficial insects that are near the application site. Beneficial insects help plant growth and fend off pests, but pesticides do not discriminate, so these valuable insects are also destroyed. Additionally, the water supply is at risk of poisoning if these pesticides leach into groundwater or runoff into drains where they can make their way to larger bodies of water. Pesticides can kill or otherwise become a problem for fish and other water-bound or -dwelling creatures such as frogs, turtles, and some birds. Switching to organic pest control solutions will reduce and/or eliminate many of these threats.
- Pesticides and Aquatic Animals: A Guide to Reducing Impact on Aquatic Systems
- Synthetic Pesticides
- Food Safety
- Organic Farming
Healthy Soil, Healthy Plants
It is widely believed that building healthy garden soil is necessary for keeping plants free of pests. When a garden’s soil is healthy, it is able to provide plants with the nutrients that they need to thrive and be healthy. Organic material added to soil helps with this and also helps maintain nutritional balance. When a plant is grown in unhealthy soil, it does not get the nutrition that it needs. This can cause it to produce excess simple sugars, nitrogen, and amino acids that pests find attractive.
- GreenScaping: The Easy Way to a Greener, Healthier Yard (PDF)
- Potting Soils, Amendments and Root Inoculants
- Healthy Soil is Key to Organic Gardening
- Managing the Soil to Reduce Insect Pests
- Natural Pest, Weed, and Disease Control (PDF)
Beneficial insects are good for gardens in a number of ways, such as eating pests that damage plants or aiding in the pollination process. When gardening, people will want to not only eliminate pests but also attract these beneficial insects. To do this, it is important to first recognize which insects are beneficial and which are not. This reduces one’s chances of targeting bugs that are useful, as some may bear a resemblance to non-beneficial insects. Another step is to plant the types of plants that attract these types of insects. Although they feed on pests, many also enjoy pollen and nectar. Consider planting sweet alyssum, coriander, coneflower, tansy, sunflower, garlic, or fennel, which are just a few of the plants that will bring beneficials to a garden.