Last week we looked at insects that help maintain ecosystems and ensure that your garden remains green, both literally and from an environmental point of view. But how do you actively go about attracting beneficial insects and animals? What can you do to ensure that your garden provides a balanced, sustainable environment that will need little intervention from you?
The first, and most obvious, piece of advice we can give is to get rid of poisons, pesticides and chemicals. Though they may help get rid of unwanted bugs, they also get rid of natural predators of that particular pest. They may contaminate water and soil, making future plans to have an organic garden more arduous.
Most homeowners probably do this without realising its benefit, but planting an array of plants helps prevent infestation. Nectar rich plants will attract bees (that will pollinate your garden) and birds that will keep insect populations in check. Growing a variety of such plants will ensure that you have blooming flowers for most of the year and, of course, bees and birds.
Having a variety of plants ensures that your garden is covered with greenery of all heights and thicknesses. Low-growing herbs provide homes for ground dwelling beetles while taller plants with thicker foliage provide excellent shelter for pest-zappers such as the praying mantis. You can control mites by attracting Ladybugs – these common garden insects favour plants such as daisies. Hover flies are also common in South Africa and dine on aphids. You can bring them to the garden by planting asters, black-eyed Susans and goldenrods.
Insects require certain conditions to live. They need water, which they will be able to obtain from either rain or when you water your plants. Keeping your garden beds mulched will give ground beetles or nocturnal insects a place to hide away from the sun during the day. Having mulched soil also prevents it from drying out.
Certain plants have a natural defense against pests. Geraniums release a chemical that is known to paralyze insects that attempt to feed on it. If a plant that has such a defense system becomes damaged or weak, it will allow pest populations to grow. Keeping pests at bay not only requires homeowners to attract the right type of bugs, but also to ensure that their plants are healthy and in a position to maintain an ecosystem.
If you are trying to grow fruit and vegetables, plan your garden in such a way that you have an insect-attracting plant next to where you plan to grow veggies. If you know what type of bug is fond of a particular type of vegetable, grow a shrub, bush or plant that will attract the natural predator of that bug. The proximity will aid predators in finding their prey and in doing so, keep your fruit and vegetables pest-free.
A number of nurseries and even pest-control companies advocate using natural relationships between plants, insects and birds to manage pest populations. Some even sell items such as praying mantis eggs and will be able to advise the best possible plant/insect relationship in your area.