Garden Pests and Predators – an Introduction

slug on sedum

 

Garden pests and predators bear some definition. Your garden pests vary in size from tiny aphids through to deer.  Similarly, garden predators range in size and ferocity.

So this is a short introduction to the garden pests and predators you may find on your plot. Because we like to be helpful at Plews, we’ve included  a few tips to keep the pests at bay. And also some ways to encourage those garden predators to do some of your work for you. Well, why not? Working with nature can be good for you and the environment!

Aphids include small insects, often almost too small to see, such as greenfly, whitefly and red spider mite. There are plant pot loving garden pests, for example vine weevil. Slugs and snails of course, frequently gardeners’ enemy number one.

And there are also the larger garden pests, who are often visitors rather than inhabitants; squirrels, foxes, badgers and deer.

Then there are those animals that may or may not be pests, for example, pets – dogs and cats in particular, yours or a neighbour’s. Oh and possibly children, teenagers and helpful spouses, but that’s definitely another story.

For every garden pest there is a garden predator; that is the nature of life.

Some of these are easier to go to war with than others; for some you will have more armaments than the opposition. As there are so many and you don’t have all day to sit and read, in this blog I’ll concentrate on some of the smaller garden pests and their predators.

blackfly - aphids, garden pests

Garden Pests and Predators – Good garden practice

Firstly, a few simple measures which apply to all plants: good hygiene and cultural practice: what this means is, for example, quarantine new arrivals and remove decaying material from around existing plants. Plant the right plant in the right place; give it good, nutrient rich soil; water when it’s needed; and light and air to suit. A healthy plant is more able to fight off infestations of garden pests and diseases.

Garden pests

Aphids and spider mites are found on houseplants, in the greenhouse and in the garden. The controlled environment of houses and greenhouses enables the pests to be dealt with more easily. Some of the little pests may be noticeable and easy to pick off and squish. For others you may need reinforcements. Biological control has become easier for the domestic gardener to access; many are available online and through garden centres. Encarsa Formosa, a parasitic wasp that attacks aphids is particularly effective in a confined environment such as a greenhouse.

ants farming aphids, garden pests, garden predators

One thing to remember about using predators is that they will not totally eradicate your pests. Why? Because the pests are their breakfast, lunch and dinner. Whilst dedicated annihilators may be able to rid their garden of all pests from greenfly to deer in their dreams, the reality is that even using all the chemicals available, they’ll still be an aphid or slug sneaking in as soon as your back is turned.

Ah, slugs, the bane of many a gardener and probably, along with their cousin the snail, worthy of a blog to themselves. The tricks for dealing with these gastropods are many: a biological control which is proving useful is the nematode. Nematodes are tiny organisms, so small they are invisible to the eye, and are literally watered into the soil. Hence they are particularly effective for containers – your Hostas now have a chance!

Garden Predators

Some of these creatures you may know better under the category of beneficial insects.

This makes most people immediately think of bees; who don’t eat pests, it’s true.
But other beneficial insects, such as ladybirds and lacewings, do eat pests. Encouraging these predators into your garden to do battle for you by growing a wide range of flowering plants and providing over wintering shelter is a win-win situation. Native species are good to include in your garden for this and other reasons, not least for ornamental pleasure; Yarrow and Tansy for example.

If I may refer back to my comment “A weed is a plant in the wrong place”, dandelions are an excellent food source for ladybirds and lacewings! Some of these beneficial insects who are also garden predators can be as mean as any hunter twenty times their size. Ladybirds positively chomp on aphids with their strong mandibles.

Other helpful predators against the smaller garden pests are amphibians such as frogs and toads, who will enjoy keeping your slug population under control. A small pond and somewhere cool and shady to sit and wait for prey should keep them happy.

blackbird on lawn

Hedgehogs and birds play a part too: that cheerfully serenading blackbird will smash snail shells and eat the contents. However, if it’s the birds that are the pest, get in touch, I have a friend who can help you in an environmentally friendly way (he uses hawks).

 Garden Pests and Predators – What else?

We will be returning to the subject of garden pests and predators in further blogs. Looking at individual animals; how to dissuade them from eating your plants if they’re a pest. And ways of gardening that will encourage a balance of both types without harming your pets and children.

 

Companion Planting

Let’s not forget the plants themselves: companion planting can help in the war against garden pests. Mint, for example, has been known to reduce carrot fly and flea beetle infestations; being strong smelling it confuses them. Being invasive itself, mint does need controlling…I smell a blog is needed on companion planting too.

 

Some related gardening blogs you may enjoy

Seedlings – some problems solved

Weeds

Peat free compost – are you still confused?

Garden Pests: Snails and Slugs – 5 tips for dealing with the molluscs

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Chartered Institute of Horticulture