Pests can be described as those creatures that harm your garden plants and, if left unchecked, they can quickly cause a great deal of damage. There is a huge army of these pests, but most organic gardeners are unlikely to encounter the vast majority of them.
Start With Prevention
Everything you do to make your plants strong and healthy increases their resistance to pests and diseases. Good gardening practices prevent most troubles.
Gardeners call these preventive practices cultural controls, and you should make all of the following part of your garden routine:
- Choose resistant cultivars. Some herbs are particularly susceptible to certain diseases or pests. For example, bee balm often gets powdery mildew, and in recent years, fusarium disease has become a problem on basil. When possible, choose disease-resistant cultivars, like ‘Marshall’s Delight’ bee balm and ‘Nufar’ basil.
- Keep your organically rich soil healthy.
- Mulch plants. Mulch protects plants from soil-borne diseases by keeping water from splashing from the ground onto stems and leaves. Mulch also suppresses weeds.
- Give plants what they want. Planting sun-loving basil in shade is asking for sickly, diseased plants. Be sure you give each herb the conditions it needs to succeed — the right amounts of sun, space, food, and water. Refer to the appendix for information on individual herbs.
- Rotate crops. Rather than planting basil and other annual herbs in the same places year after year, move them around to different beds. This technique is called crop rotation. It confuses insects that have overwintered in the soil and are expecting a quick bite of their favorite herb when they emerge. Crop rotation also foils diseases whose spores are waiting for the right weather to infect your new crop.
- Practice diversity. Planting a large bed of nothing but lavender — or any one herb — makes it an easy target for marauding insects or incipient diseases. When possible, mix herbs with each other or with vegetables and flowers.
- Practice restraint. If a particular disease or pest is overwhelming your herbs, consider leaving the plants that attract it out of your garden for a year or two — at the least, move them to a new location.
- Make friends with natural predators. Insects, spiders, toads, and birds are among your allies in controlling pest problems. You can encourage beneficials to linger in your yard and garden by providing them food, water, and shelter and by refraining from using pesticides.
- Keep foliage dry. You can’t stop the rain, but if you water plants, don’t wet the leaves. (Many diseases are spread by water splashing from the soil to the leaves.) Instead, water herbs at their roots.
- Take it easy! Be careful. Bruised and torn leaves, snapped stems, damaged roots, or anything that stresses plants leaves them more open to diseases and pests.
- Don’t make things worse. Be sure that you don’t bring problems into the garden. Inspect new herbs and other plants for signs of disease and insects before you add them to your beds and borders.
- Be a good housekeeper. Diseases and pests lurk in weeds and plant refuse. Keep your garden weeded and cleaned up. Remove and destroy plants that are diseased or severely plagued with pests. Remove plant residue at the end of the garden season.
- Clean your tools. If you’re cutting off diseased material from any plant, dip your pruners in rubbing alcohol or a 10 percent bleach solution between each cut.
A basic knowledge of the commonest types that occur in domestic gardens is all that you should need to be familiar with in order to protect your plants and guarantee their health and successful growth.
Television ads for pest control products and services describe insects as evil threats to be annihilated at all costs. They use words like war and enemy and battle, but in reality, very few insects pose a problem.
At least 95 percent of the insects you see in your landscape are either beneficial or harmless. And most of the time, the remaining 5 percent pose minor concerns that you can control without resorting to pesticides.
The American landscape is already up to its knees in toxins — chemicals blended to combat weeds, diseases, and pests large and small. Don’t add to the problem by bombing bugs and drenching diseases with more poisons.
Often, these “remedies” are more harmful than the pests and diseases you’re trying to control. You may have to accept a few imperfections — an occasional hole in a leaf, a nibbled flower, even a dead plant or two — but the reward is a healthier harvest, and a healthier environment.
Fortunately, herbs are among the garden plants least bothered by diseases and pests. With help from you, they’ll grow vigorously, untroubled by plagues or pestilence.
This post takes you step by step through the process of managing pests in your herb garden.
Controlling Pests and Diseases Organically
The term integrated pest management (IPM) describes a commonsense approach to keeping gardens and landscapes healthy. While we’re great fans of IPM, we’re even keener about what we call OPM, organic pest management.
We avoid using synthetic chemical products on our herbs. You, too, can take an organic approach to gardening by embracing the following techniques.
How Can You Tell if A Pest Is a Problem or Not?
Deciding whether a pest is a problem or not is very much a matter of opinion. Commercial growers assess the importance of a pest in terms of their financial losses. Domestic organic gardeners, however, tend to grow fewer plants or crops and mainly grow these for their beauty or for the pleasure of eating home-grown produce.
The final decision as to the importance of a pest wilt rely upon the circumstances and experience of individual gardeners.
All organic gardeners must be willing to accept a certain number of pests in their garden as these form part of the intricate food webs that result in natural control. If there are no pests, then the animals that eat them will disappear and open the door to future, potentially serious, pest outbreaks.
It is important that you are able to accurately identify a pest that has been attacking your plants so that you can take the appropriate action. Just because an Insect is seen walking on an affected plant does not mean that it is the one causing the damage.
The only real way to control pests involves getting to know them. Many pests produce characteristic symptoms that make it possible to diagnose the cause with relative certainty.
Some have a wide range of host plants, and symptoms may not always be as conspicuous on all affected plants. Close examination – perhaps with a hand lens – may be necessary for the final diagnosis.
With careful observation and experience, it is possible to keep one step ahead of the pests in your garden.
It is important to control pests before they become a problem. A single black bean aphid (Aphis fabae) that lands on a broad bean at the start of the summer could theoretically give rise to 2,000,000,000,000,000 aphids by the start of the autumn. This would be about a million tons of aphids.
Numbers such as this are impossible but it does go to show that early control is essential. Quantities such as those quoted in the aphid example cannot occur as the food supply would run out before this can happen. In addition, a whole host of predators eat them. In just a few days, however, pests can cause considerable damage and quick action is needed if you are to save your plants.
Organic gardeners must employ a full range of control measures to ensure their plants survive this seasonal invasion, including cultural practices (crop rotation, good hygiene and encouraging biodiversity), physical controls (hand picking, traps, repellents and barriers) and biological control (using other animals that naturally eat pests).
These are covered more extensively later In this section but for now it is important to stress that pests can only really be controlled by an integrated strategy that uses a variety of techniques,
Can Pests Be Tolerated?
It is worth pointing out that we tend to be unduly concerned with pests damaging our plants. Supermarkets have conditioned us to expect blemish-free produce. We need to judge the overall health of a plant rather than react when we see a pest.
If there were no pests in the garden, then there would be no predators. Step back and look at the whole picture and remember that everything, even pests, has its place in nature. They all add to the interest and diversity that is the most unique quality of an organic garden.