Pests are an ever-present menace in the vegetable garden. You can never escape the threat of an attack, but you can at least plan for one. The secret lies in attracting beneficial wildlife, arming yourself with barriers, and working strategically to sidestep common pests.
Healthy Plants = Strong Plants
A healthy plant is less likely to succumb to pests than one that is weak or stressed. Make sure your crops are as healthy as possible by following good cultivation practices. Water soil in dry weather, keep plants regularly weeded and add organic fertilisers and organic matter such as garden compost where appropriate. Only grow crops that will thrive in the position you can give them.
Encourage Natural Allies
Enlist the help of natural allies that will dispatch pests for you. Predatory insects such as ladybirds, toads, birds and many other creatures can destroy pests before they become a problem.
Attract predatory insects into the garden by planting the flowers that they will also feed on. Choose plants with a single ring of petals, which normally contain greater amounts of nectar and pollen. Good examples include calendula, an easy-to-grow annual that readily sows itself from one year to the next, and fennel, which is a favourite of hoverflies.
Make sure to include early and late flowers in your plan. Spring bulbs such as crocuses are excellent early flowers, while ivy is a great choice towards the end of the season. Leave one or two biennial crops (such as onions and carrots) in the ground to provide an early source of nectar the following year. Several overwintering cover crops also provide early and late flowers for beneficial insects. A handy selection of suitable flowers can be found in our Garden Planner.
Other ways to attract insects include installing bought or home-made insect hotels, allowing patches of grass to grow a little longer and leaving dead wood in corners of the garden as breeding areas for beetles. A clump or two of nettles will also draw in plenty of beneficial bugs.
Frogs, Toads and Birds
Frogs and toads have a healthy appetite for slugs and many insects, making them perfect garden companions. Install a pond to provide a breeding place for these amphibians. Even a small one made by sinking a watertight container into the ground can lure them in.
Water is also vital for birds, including insect-eaters, which will feast on the likes of aphids after quenching their thirst. And don’t forget to include trees, shrubs and hedges to your garden. These provide nesting sites and food, ensuring your feathered friends will never be far from potential pests.
Physical barriers such as netting, insect mesh, fleece or row covers are highly effective at stopping flying insect pests. Set them into position before an attack is likely. In many cases, for example to protect against carrot fly, that means installing covers as soon as the seeds have been sown and only removing them to weed after wet weather.
It often helps to group crops that require the same type of protection together. For example, crops in the cabbage family, such as cauliflower, broccoli and kale, may be grown next to each other in the same bed. This means that all the plants can be covered with a single piece of netting to prevent butterflies from laying eggs. Similarly, by growing your fruit bushes together in one part of the garden a fruit cage becomes more practical to prevent birds eating your harvest.
You can also add pest barriers to a garden plan. Start by selecting Garden Objects in the Garden Planner selection bar drop-down menu, then scroll through to select what you need – a fruit cage or row cover for instance.
The Big Bug Hunt
Of course, before installing defences you’ll need to know which pests are coming your way, and when. That's where the Big Bug Hunt comes in. If you see any pests or beneficial insects in your garden, please head over to BigBugHunt.com and report them. We’re working with leading university researchers to build an early-warning system for pests to help gardeners around the world protect their hard-won harvests! Every bug reported will help to make that system more accurate.
Pests are inevitable in gardening, but by taking a few precautions you can beat the bugs. We’d love to hear how you prevent pests in your garden - just drop us a comment below to share your tips.