Taking the Organic Approach to Controlling Garden Pests

We’ve finally had enough days with the weather warmer than 70 degrees (or close to it) that a great many pests are appearing. While watering the other day, I noticed something had munched on my Azalea. Upon closer inspection, I realized a great many things had been munching on it and they were, in fact, in the act of doing it.

These tiny green caterpillars were making short work of my Azalea bush. Perfectly camouflaged, they eat their way around the leaf until it’s gone! I spent about 15 minutes and ended up with countless little tiny morsels for the chicks.

tiny green caterpillars

We’ve given them sow bugs in the past, but these were a whole new soft green treat for them. They attacked them with gusto. I’m looking forward to turning the chickens loose in the yard soon!

When I got to the hellebores I was floored. In just one short week not only did we have aphids, but we had aphids on a whole new level than ever before. Somehow they haven’t yet jumped over the peas. Maybe the hellebores are keeping them put?

aphids on a leaf

Aphids can come in almost any color but they all pretty much look like these.  They harm the plant by sucking the juice from it, making it susceptible to a number of diseases. You will often see ants where aphids are around. The ants feed on the honeydew aphids create, and the ants will voraciously protect aphids against other bug predators.

Aphids can cause stunted growth and yellow leaf curl on plants, and their honeydew lesions often turn to black sooty fungus. They spread rapidly in our temperate late spring/early summer conditions, and you need to catch them early in order to control them. Each aphid can hatch up to 80 aphids per week, as little as 12 days after hatching.

You can knock the aphids off the leaves with a strong spray of water, but in my experience, they simply climb right back onto the plant fairly quickly. I find it’s easiest to leave them on the leaf then crush them all with my thumb.

I do support the top side of the leaf in my other hand to be sure I don’t harm the plant. Back in my early gardening days, I used insecticidal soap made from the chrysanthemum flower, but that can be harmful to humans and animals so it’s no longer a choice for me.

What I do use on a regular basis are lady bugs.

ladybugs for pest control

You can find them at better gardening centers (mine are from Swanson’s) and on the internet. Keep them refrigerated and release them slowly at dusk (they don’t fly at night) in small numbers at a time over the course of the summer. Release them by putting them at the base of plants around your yard.

If you are trying to pinpoint them to a particular leaf, you will notice they persist in climbing upwards (usually up your arm). To get them onto a leaf place your finger under the leaf. They will immediately change direction, climbing up your finger and onto the leaf.

Ladybugs are an endless source of amusement for kids and a great intro to gardening. You can find kid’s magnifying glasses just about everywhere. No garden is complete without one.

One other bug I love to have in the garden is the praying mantis. You can also get their egg sacks at Swanson’s or on the internet. They require temperatures above 80 degrees for two weeks in order to hatch, which puts them at the tail end of summer for us in Seattle, but they are fun to find in the garden. They eat just about any bug and provide hours of entertainment for kids.

Stuart Jones

My name is Stuart Jones and I'm the guy responsible for most of the content on this website. I'm a horticulturist with over 25 years of experience in gardening and garden plants. To bring color throughout the year, I regularly grow a wide variety of plants, bulbs, flowers, shrubs and trees. Oh, and let’s not forget the fruits and vegetables to ensure the fridge is always stocked!

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