Another Reason to Say No to Chemicals in Your Garden

Praying Mantis on a leafAfter four years of research, Rachel Carson brought the devastating side effects of wholesale use of the pesticide DDT to light with the 1962 publication of her environmental science book, Silent Spring. Because of challenges by U.S. chemical companies, it took nearly 10 years to ban the dangerous chemical that was decimating the wild bird population. Thanks to Carson’s work, the modern environmental movement was born—including the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency under Republican Richard M. Nixon in 1970.

Fifty years later, people are still arguing about the use of chemical pesticides and herbicides in both commercial and residential farming and landscaping. Those of us who prefer to keep our homegrown vegetables and flower gardens chemical free can look to nature to assist us in controlling pests.

CloseupChemicals don’t discriminate against only the destructive bugs like cabbage moths and aphids, they kill the good ones, like bees, ladybugs, lacewing and praying mantis, too. By making a yard that is friendly to these desirable bugs, the backyard gardener can keep their vegetation relatively pest free.

Few things can compare with biting into a stalk of lightly steamed broccoli, only to discover it peppered with aphids. My 10-year-old swore off the healthy veggie—one of her staples—for nearly a year after one particularly buggy summer. Luckily the delightful ladybug loves to snack on aphids. It’s easy to encourage them and other predatory insects like the praying mantis to visit your garden by following these simple tips:

  • Ladybug larva and pupaGrow plants they like such as cosmos, marigolds and raspberries, as well as fennel and borage.
  • Provide a shallow source of water. See my post on attracting bees for an attractive option.
  • Plant ground covers to provide protection from predators and shade to escape the heat of the day.
  • Learn to recognize the ladybug in its stages of development so you don’t eradicate them accidentally. This is especially fun to do with children!

If your garden is already overrun by aphids and other pests, you can purchase live lady bugs at some local garden centers. If they’re not available in your area, you can order them online. Planet Natural is my go-to source for ladybugs and other beneficial insects. It’s important to order at the right time of year though. We once had an egg sack of over 100 teensy praying mantises hatch in our basement because the weather had been too cold and wet to put it out in the garden. We managed to get most of them outside, but it was quite the chore to round them up!

To keep those good bugs in your yard, and not the neighbor’s, you can spray affected plants with a homemade attractant (10 parts water/1 part sugar/1 part brewer’s yeast). They’ll come for the sugar water and stay for a bad-bug dessert.