Invite Some Garden Friends: Backyard Biodiversity Tip Four

Using nature to control weeds and pests is a great way to garden organically and improve the biodiversity in your garden.

Gordon is a fabulous worker in my garden. He helps control insects on his nightly hunting missions. Photo by Author.

It’s been a long time coming, but here it is and it’s all about using nature to control weeds and pests.

This is the fourth in a series. You can find the first three by clicking the free reading links here:

There’s really very little point having water, habitat and wild spots in your garden if the organisms that are being attracted by those things are ingesting primary or secondary poisons.

Pesticides and herbicides have lasting impacts on a garden ecosystem, not the least of which is the impact on soil. The importance of soil is becoming more evident as the results of ongoing and increasing research are released.

It’s about the mycelium networks yes, but it’s also about microbial organisms that use that mycelium as habitat.

No matter what poison you use you’re going to use, it will unintentionally impact on other species, most of them microscopic but integral to the complex habitat that you are nurturing.

The point here is that mother nature gives us plenty of tools to use that don’t damage the food webs or habitats for any size organism. She uses plenty of tools herself to ensure that organisms are working in balance.

When I started using these tools, I had to suffer through pests and weeds annihilating parts of my garden.

Graphic by Author (using Canva)

Weeds

  1. Pull them.
  2. Snip them.
  3. Cover their habitat
  4. Limit your disturbance of the soil
  5. Plant perennials

There are a number of different ways to eliminate weeds.

Pulling weeds is an arduous task, but doesn’t have a significant impact on your soil.

Certain weeds can be snipped off at the base of the stalk so that their roots remain in the soil and as they die are devoured and broken down by soil organisms therefore improving the quality of your soil as well as eliminating the weed.

You can also make sure that you have significant ground covers that will discourage weeds from spaces and edges. Keep in mind that many weeds are attracted to disturbed soil which you create when you pull weeds or turn soil, so groundcovers are a great alternative and reduce your garden maintenance workload.

Also if you plant perennials rather than annuals and limit your disturbance of the soil then you’re going to be limiting ideal habitat for many weed species.

Pests

1. Attract predators

2. Plant distractions

3. Nurture predators

A great way to eliminate pests, or rather to minimize pests because you’ll never eliminate them, is to attract their predators. Really, why would you want to eliminate them?

They’re part of the ecosystem.

They’re food sources for many of the beneficial organisms that you want to inhabit your backyard. So rather than spraying them and poisoning them, you can attract their predators which in turn keeps those predators alive.

This keeps them working in your garden ecosystem and discourages future infestation. It also maintains biodiversity and garden health. The garden ecosystem is so complicated that no one aspect can ensure health. Encouraging as many organisms as possible allows the whole system to flourish.

Birds are also very efficient predators of pest insects and they will soon make regular visits to your garden if they can guarantee good food. They will help by keeping all aspects of the insect world in control. Even beneficial predators can unbalance the system if the conditions are too good.

You can incorporate “distractions” to encourage pests to (mostly) leave your valued crops alone.

Some pests like the Cabbage White Butterfly can wreak havoc on certain crops. The Cabbage White Butterfly favours brassicas and can quickly destroy crops, but they prefer Nasturtiums. If you plant Nasturtiums near or in your brassica crops, the caterpillars will mostly destroy the Nasturtiums and leave your brassicas alone for the most part.

Some of the best helpers in my garden are Lacewings. Lacewings eat scale and aphids amongst other pests. They have a ridiculous habit of laying eggs on my clothes pegs. This creates problems because there’s no food on my clothesline for them. If there’s no food when they hatch they will eat each other.

To nurture the population of Lacewings, I find a plant with aphids or scale and simply attach the peg to the plant. This way, when the little predators hatch, they have a good food source so they won’t eat each other. They also start working on one of my pest problems straight away. I end up with fewer pests and more predators and hopefully, a recovering plant. I’ve done this for years and now I find that aphid and scale infestations are rarer in my garden.

Final Thoughts

Humans have the really weird practice of looking at a system and seeing undesirable elements without appreciating how they might work for that system. For example, some organisms are seen as a beneficial or a desirable element in a garden, but on the other side of the coin the larvae are considered to be undesirable pests.

A prime example of this is caterpillars and butterflies. Caterpillars are seen as a pest that eats the leaves of our plants to make them unsightly although most caterpillars don’t destroy a plant in its entirety. Whereas butterflies are seen as beneficial pollinators and a desirable visual element in a garden. I discussed this concept in more depth in this article published in Illumination last year.

Caterpillars Versus Butterflies: Why Can’t We Love Them Both the Same?
We know that the world has changed when we “like” caterpillars as much as we “like” butterflies.medium.com

Beetles are a similar case in Australia where the loss of the Christmas Beetle is a hot topic on social media. This species has become threatened due to people poisoning their lawns to kill lawn grubs. Unfortunately, it kills the grubs that would later become the shiny beloved Christmas beetles so-called because they used to be everywhere in December.

The thing is that if we want the beneficial aspects of the system, we need to care for the system in its entirety. Natural systems are so complex that removing any part has a knock-on effect that is often unpredictable.

Instead of fighting the aspects of the system that you find undesirable, find ways to use the system to help you create a flourishing ecosystem that benefits all organisms. You will reap the rewards through enjoying a biodiverse backyard that requires less work to maintain!

Wishing you many garden friends, botanical and zoological alike,

Jane Grows Garden Rooms

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