A Beginners Gardening Journey – guide to pests and natural pest control
Our gardens are our sanctuary and we spend a lot of time nurturing the plants and nature within them. All gardeners experience some form of pests in their garden but this isn’t a reason not to get planting. We have decided to bring the most commonly encountered pests together with natural ways to control them so you can enjoy a healthy and thriving outdoor space.
With the weather starting to warm up, you will start to see more and more ants in the garden. Both a friend and a foe to the gardener, ants can damage plants if they build their colony directly next to the root system. An ant nest can also cause damage in your lawn, preventing grass from growing properly.
- Mix a 50/50 solution of vinegar and water in a spray bottle and spray the ants.
- Use citrus fruits near the plants as ants hate the smell.
- Coffee grounds are brilliant to form a barrier to deter ants.
- Draw chalk circles on the ground as chalk disrupts ants’ sense of smell.
- Companion planting – plant mint around vulnerable areas.
- If you have an ant’s nest in the lawn, pouring boiling water on it will solve the problem.
Aphids, or blackfly and greenfly, are small pests that feed on soft stems, branches, buds and fruit by piercing and sucking the nutrient-rich sap from plants. They can often be found on roses, vegetables such as broad beans and nasturtiums.
- Spray with a weak solution of washing-up liquid and water on the stems and underside of leaves.
- Alternatively, you can use essential oils; clove, peppermint, rosemary and thyme, in a hand spray topped up with water.
- Companion planting - plants with strong scents often deter aphids so consider planting onions, leeks, garlic and sage near targeting plants.
- Plant for pollinators such as hoverflies, lacewings and ladybirds who feed on aphids. Cosmos, marigold, dill and clover will attract these beneficial insects.
- Dust the plants with cornflour.
Box tree caterpillar
Box tree caterpillars can often be found in hedging or topiary and strip mature bushes of leaves, specifically box, in just a couple of days. They leave a webbing over the foliage and the leaves become stuck together. You may also notice the flat, pale yellow eggs laid on the underside of box leaves.
- Trim off the affected parts of the plant or pick off the caterpillars by hand.
- Rock dust is often used as a soil conditioner but can help to kill larvae, this can be bought in a garden centre.
- Spray the foliage of plants with neem oil, peppermint, lavender or other essential oils.
- Invite birds and predatory insects into your garden.
- Companion planting - lavender, sage and peppermint have a scent that caterpillars hate.
A bright red beetle that is immediately identifiable and eats eat holes in lily leaves and flower buds, which weakens the plant. They lay their eggs on the underside of the leaves and their larvae leave a wet, black excrement, which protects them from predator attacks.
- Spray them with soapy water or water mixed with olive oil to kill them.
- A garlic spray is another solution – use a couple of cloves crushed or finely chopped, diffuse in boiling water for five minutes before spraying on beetles and eggs.
- Hand pick them off any beetles, larvae or eggs and discard.
- Lily beetles hibernate in plant material, as well as in the soil, during the winter. Cleaning up any dead foliage, leaves, sticks and other debris will combat a future infestation.
Mealybugs can be a serious pest problem of numerous plants, particularly those indoors like cacti and succulents. They secrete a fluffy white, waxy substance that resembles cotton wool to protect their eggs. They resemble small woodlice and suck the life out of a plant, turning the leaves yellow, before eventually dying off.
- Isolate the infected plants to prevent further spreading and spray with water daily to dislodge the mealybugs.
- Dip cotton balls in alcohol and remove all visible mealybugs.
- Prune any infected stems and leaves if infestation is small.
- Neem oil, a form of natural vegetable oil, is said to kill mealybugs by suffocation.
- Ladybirds love mealybugs so introduce companion plants if you can near any infected outdoor plants.
Snails and slugs
Snails and slugs are one of the most common garden pests. They are often seen after rainfall and thrive in damp, shady spots. Most active at night, especially in spring and autumn, they feed on a variety of succulent plants, seedlings and decaying plant debris.
- Encouraging wildlife into your garden is a natural way of tackling slugs and snails. Birds and hedgehogs love these little slimy treats, so why not install a bird or hedgehog house outdoors.
- Coffee grounds spread round plants you want to protect deter slugs and snails.
- Tie cotton wool around plant stems.
- Use egg shells as a barrier around plants.
- Slugs love beer, so sink a yoghurt pot full of beer into the soil.
- Slugs can’t cross copper, so copper tape acts as a barrier around vulnerable plants.
- Companion planting – plant garlic, chamomile and chives to repel slugs and snails.
- Nematodes – these are microscopic worms, which feed and multiply inside the slug, eventually killing its host.
Thrips are small insects with brown bodies and narrow wings edged with long fine hairs. They feed on the plant sap through their piercing and sucking mouth, leaving foliage with a silver, mottled look. There are over 150 species in the UK, but common ones in this country include onion thrips, gladioli thrips, rose thrips and privet thrips.
- Vacuum your plant! Thrips are tiny and light should get sucked away.
- Place tin foil around the seedlings you’d like to protect. This will blind the thrips and keep them away.
- Thrips hate water so hosing your plant is another way to get rid of them.
- Companion planting – try planting garlic, catnip, chrysanthemum and basil to repel thrips.
- If there is a large colony, it is best to cut the infected buds and blooms off.
One of the most troublesome of all garden pests is the vine weevil. During the spring and summer beetles attack and damage plant foliage, leaving distinctive bite marks, whilst their larvae attack and eat the plant’s roots. Vine weevil attack a vast array of outdoor plants including acer, camellia, fuchsia, heuchera, hosta, primrose and rhododendron.
- Regularly check the plants by hand and pick off the beetles and dispose, preferably at night when they feed.
- Larvae can be found around the root ball so remove if you see these in the soil, dispose of the compost and clean out the container.
- Encourage wildlife into your garden such as hedgehogs, frogs and birds who are predators of vine weevil.
- Companion plant with lavender, mint geraniums and spiky leaved plants to deter the pests.
- Stand container plants sat in saucers full of water, as the adult beetles can’t swim.
- Surround the pots with a barrier glue to prevent them climbing.
Before you purchase new plants, we recommend you check them over to make sure that they do not have any possible infestations on them. After purchase, quarantine them in another area of the garden for a week before planting.
Are you a budding gardener wanting to grow your skills?