This March 22, 2014 photo shows a ladybug on a residential property in Langley, Wash. Many gardeners use pesticides - organic or otherwise - only as a last resort. They opt instead for such predatory insects as ladybugs, which individually can consume up to 5,000 aphids during their lifetime, and can be bought commercially and released from containers into the garden. (AP Photo/Dean Fosdick)

This March 22, 2014 photo shows a ladybug on a residential property in Langley, Wash. Many gardeners use pesticides - organic or otherwise - only as a last resort. They opt instead for such predatory insects as ladybugs, which individually can consume up to 5,000 aphids during their lifetime, and can be bought commercially and released from containers into the garden. (AP Photo/Dean Fosdick)

Benign neglect? Garden pest control naturally

Gardeners worried about the safety of synthetic pest-control products sometimes turn to botanically derived compounds instead. But many of those also contain toxic ingredients, such as nicotine, rotenone and pyrethrins.

“Botanically derived pesticides are not always safe and some are more hazardous than synthetics,” said Linda Chalker-Scott, an extension horticulturist at Washington State University’s Puyallup Research Center. “Any improperly used pesticide will contaminate nearby terrestrial and aquatic systems.”

And don’t use home remedies, she said, which could be “illegal and possibly fatal to many good things in your garden.”

Instead, consider the benign-neglect school of pest-control — a mix of prevention (such as maintaining healthy soil) and natural controls (such as insect-eating insects).

“I don’t add fertilizers. I don’t use pesticides. I use a wood chip mulch, which provides habitat for beneficial insects like predacious ground beetles that may eat slugs and slug eggs,” Chalker-Scott said in an email.

Ninety-nine percent of the insects in our yards are benign or even beneficial, writes Jessica Walliser in her new “Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden: A Natural Approach to Pest Control” (Timber Press). She recommends introducing insects that eat other insects.

“A single ladybug — probably the most illustrious beneficial predatory insect — can consume up to 5,000 aphids during its lifetime,” Walliser says, adding that there are thousands of other insect species capable of doing the same thing.

To keep these predatory insects around, however, you have to offer a diverse and pesticide-free garden with plenty of plant-based foods.

“Just like people, most species of beneficial insects need a balance of carbohydrates (found in nectar) and protein (found in their prey) in order to survive,” Walliser said.

Provide plants that produce flowers with shallow, exposed nectaries, she said. “Many beneficial insects are very small and don’t have specialized mouthparts for accessing nectar from tubular flowers. Members of the carrot family and the aster family are great places to start.”

Where to find beneficial insects? Aside from luring wild singles into your yard with the necessary food, water and shelter, you can simply buy several hundred for release from containers at garden centers or on the Internet.

“Be sure you have everything they need to survive, then look at the types of pests you have in the garden,” Walliser said. “If whiteflies are problematic on your tomatoes, then larval lacewings may be your answer. If aphids are plaguing your lettuce crop, ladybugs may be a better choice.”

Prevention, though, is probably the best way to keep problem insects away, said Christy Wilhelmi, a garden designer from Los Angeles and author of “Gardening for Geeks” (Adams Media, 2013).

“If you have healthy soils, you won’t have as many pests and you won’t need to use pesticides,” she said. “Avoid (plant) stresses. Have soil with a lot of organic matter in it. Check your garden every day and you won’t need pest control.”

Online:

For more about beneficial insects, see this University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service publication: http://www.uaf.edu/files/ces/publications-db/catalog/anr/PMC-10075.pdf.

More in Life

Virginia Walters (Courtesy photo)
Life in the Pedestrian Lane: What’s OLD?

It occurred to me that we go through stages all our lives.

This Rip Rider photos shows a successful fisherman posing in front of the Russian River Rendezvous in the mid-1950s. (Photo courtesy of the Mona Painter Collection)
The Disappearing Lodge, Part 2

In late May 1959, officials from the Russian River Rendezvous, Alaska Sportsman’s Association, Inc., made a splashy official announcement in the Anchorage Daily Times

File
Minister’s Message: Who is this man?

Over and over again, they struggle to rightly name who he is and what he’s up to

A still from “Casting Maya,” a film about Ascension Bay on the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico is seen in this screenshot. From Pure Films, the short will be one of nine shown at the International Fly Fishing Film Festival on Aug. 10 in Kenai, Alaska. (IF4/flyfilmfest.com)
Anglers’ night out

Annual International Fly Fishing Film Festival returns to Kenai

Candy pecans make a sweet snack to enjoy on excursions. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)
Road trip reimagined

Candied pecans accompany more subdued wandering

Robert C. Lewis photo courtesy of the Alaska Digital Archives 
Ready to go fishing, a pair of guests pose in front of the Russian River Rendezvous in the early 1940s.
The Disappearing Lodge, Part 1

By the spring of 1931, a new two-story log building — the lodge’s third iteration — stood on the old site, ready for business

Artwork donated for the Harvest Auction hangs at the Kenai Art Center on Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2022, in Kenai, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Auction, juried show to showcase local talent

Kenai Art Center will host its annual Harvest Auction this weekend, juried art show next month

Viola Davis stars in “The Woman King.” (Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc.)
On the screen: Women reign in latest action flick

‘The Woman King’ is a standout that breaks new ground

Sweet and tart cranberry pecan oat bars are photographed. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)
Cranberries to match the bright colors of fall

Delicious cranberry pecan oat bars are sweet and tart

Most Read