By Heather Norton / September 25, 2019
You’re not the only one who loves your garden, but unfortunately, the other admirer has a more sinister plan! Whether it’s a greedy weed stealing the nutrients from the plants you intended to grow, or creepy crawlies bent on making a meal of your veggies before you even get a chance to, you’ll need to find safe ways to keep your plot safe.
When you decide to garden outdoors, you have the benefit of natural sunlight and rain to help your plants along. Using yard space to garden adds beauty to your home and creates a private space to enjoy nature.
Unfortunately, plants being outdoors means they are also exposed to all kinds of elements beyond your control. Insects and weeds, in particular, can cause a lot of heartaches when they kill or ruin plants. Here are some of the most common culprits that can damage your garden.
Insects in Your Garden
When you are gardening outdoors, insects are a fact of life. They belong outside, and you’re probably glad they are out there instead of in your house. Insects can even be beneficial to plant growth, by pollinating flowers and eating pests.
Others will eat your plants and even introduce diseases to them. Some insects affect gardens all over, while other pests are limited by region.
However, there are some measures you can take to reduce their impact on your plants. Introducing predator insects can decrease the populations of many pests, and these can be purchased at most garden stores. Creating barriers around your garden or crops can help reduce the damage done by certain insects, as well.
Aphids are some of the most common garden pests. They’re recognizable as tiny, pear-shaped bodies and many of them are green, though they can also be black, red, brown, or yellow.
With more than 4,000 species in existence, there’s a lot of variety to be found. In small numbers, they are not harmful to plants, but they often infest gardens in large numbers. They stunt plants and can cause them to wither. They also leave behind a fluid called honeydew as they eat. It’s sweet, and it attracts ants and causes mold growth.
Pruning the affected areas can be helpful for dealing with small infestations. Otherwise, introducing aphid predators can be helpful. Ladybugs and lacewings are both sold in bulk to help lower aphid populations. They also eat other garden pests.
Grasshoppers are damaging not because of their numbers, but because of how much they need to eat. Experts estimate that every year, they eat about 25 percent of crops grown in the Western United States.
Because of this, even a small population can cause sizeable damage. They are typically one or two inches long, and range in color from brown to yellow to green.
One suggested tip is to keep a strip between your garden and any grassy areas mown clean to deter them from crossing the strip to get to your plants. This is especially effective in large areas with a wide strip. Pesticides or a special fungus targeted at these pests can also be effective in decreasing their populations.
Snails and Slugs
Though these don’t qualify as insects, they are some of the most insidious garden pests in the United States. They do especially well in damp areas, especially in hidden spots found under rocks and other garden features.
They will chew holes into plants of all kinds, ranging from vegetables to flowers to leafy greens.
Snails and slugs thrive in heavy mulch, so avoid laying down more than three inches at a time. Removing decorative stones and bricks takes away their hiding spots if you are willing to sacrifice their aesthetic value.
Otherwise, traps are an excellent way to collect and kill these pests. Basins filled with beer attract these creatures, and once inside, they will drown.
Diatomaceous earth and copper tape can create barriers to prevent slugs and snails from getting to their favorite plants to eat.
Weeds in Your Garden
Most gardeners work with a specific idea in mind on how they want to organize the yard. You might want lots of vegetable plants or lots of butterfly-attracting flowers, or maybe you’re gardening with color in mind. Weeds can disrupt all of this.
They will grow in places where you want another plant to thrive, and many of them are good at taking over the resources that are meant to go to the original garden plants.
They produce a huge amount of seeds, sometimes up to thousands per plant. Below are some of the most common weeds to watch out for, and how to reduce their presence in your garden.
Know your enemy! Spend some adequate time learning the characteristics and weaknesses of common garden invaders. Having knowledge of the weeds that are detrimental to your plants can save you serious heartache and money.
Common Weed Types
The most common weeds will vary slightly from region to region, but some are found all across North America. Dandelions are one such plant. Because they have a long taproot, they are tough to kill, and their seeds are aerodynamic enough to spread easily.
Bindweed, a type of morning glory vine, is an invasive species that can be hard to get rid of since it has roots that extend up to 14 feet down and it spreads widely in warm climates.
With plants like these, it’s best to recognize seedlings before they have a chance to fully take root. Lambsquarters is the most common garden weed and is best addressed with a sharp hoe or another tool. It grows quickly and soaks up moisture before other plants can get to it. Like some other weeds, it’s edible.
Why Do Weeds Grow?
Weeds are resilient plants, and they grow all over the place. Even in the most desolate cracked concrete, you will often find some weeds poking up. This isn’t a coincidence– when the conditions are too harsh for other plants to grow, weeds crop up.
When healthy plants are present, weeds are less likely to grow. Keeping your garden well-fertilized and in top form will reduce weed growth.
Prevention is the best method for reducing weed growth. Once these plants successfully grow in your garden, it can be extremely difficult to remove them altogether.
Be Aware of Weed Seeds
It’s safe to assume that your garden is filled with weed seeds once one weed has flowered. Many of them remain viable for several years. However, only the top few inches of soil are close enough to the surface, and sunlight, for them to actually begin to grow.
Remember this as you do routine garden work, and avoid needless digging or churning the soil. When you bring them to the surface, they will grow.
You can avoid disturbing the soil while rooting out weeds by using a knife to slice through their roots, rather than digging into the ground to get them out.
A little strategy never hurt anybody. It’s easier to plan ahead of any problems rather than reacting when one has already taken root. Try creating a “fortress” of sorts for your precious garden by using preventative products and establishing a physical barrier between your plants and areas from which weeds and pests can gain easy access.
Weeds arise wherever they see an opening, so avoid giving them one. When you design your garden, create plant beds that are tightly packed. Spaces between plants leave an opening for weeds, so plant foliage close together.
It’s usually harmless to plant them up to 25 percent closer than the recommended spacing, so take advantage and crowd weeds out.
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