In the days of old, pesticides were never a consideration when growing food, and people still managed to do it quite well. It wasn’t that pests didn’t exist, but simply that natural solutions did, too. Unfortunately, with the rise of chemically-based agriculture methods, these reliable and safe methods took a backseat to brand names and poisons.
There are many problems with using pesticides. They kill indiscriminately, taking out beneficial insects, like bees and butterflies (Some of us don’t want to kill anything anyway). Then, when predatory insects die along with the pests, the much smaller predator populations recover significantly more slowly than pests, which creates a complete dependence on the chemical rather than natural systems. And, of course, we don’t really know just how badly the accumulated poisons are affecting our food and health in the meantime.
In other words, the time to switch back to those solutions of old is long past due, and it all begins with choosing companion plants that protect crops from pests. When we do this, we increase biodiversity and enhance ecosystems, which reach healthy balances of predators and pests on their own, with no poisons needed. Here are ten plants to keep pests at bay.
Sunflowers, like many on the following list, are great companions because, not only do they help with pests, but they also provide more to harvest. Their most notable attribute is that they distract aphids and white flies from other plants. These pests don’t have much negative effect on sunflowers, but they’ll decimate the other crops.
Fragrant marigolds are amongst the most respected pest repellent plants, and they are often used to border gardens or planted throughout them. In addition to repelling plenty of pesky bugs, marigolds distract spider mites and snails away from other plants, and the really smelly varieties — Mexican marigolds — will even keep rabbits out of the garden.
3. Culinary Herbs
Like marigolds and several others on this list, culinary herbs tend to be very aromatic, which confuses pests and attracts beneficial insects. Basil, mint (the entire family), and dill all individually are well-regarded for their pest-repelling abilities. But, more or less, choose any culinary herb, and it’ll help deter troublesome insects and attract beneficial ones.
Nasturtiums are beautiful plants, with lovely flowers and leaves that are both pleasant to look at and delicious to eat. Even the seeds are used as a substitute for capers. But, their ability to help with a number of pests warrants their place in any garden anyway. These are great at self-seeding, so they could potentially cultivate themselves each year.
Borage also has leaves (go for the young ones, before they get too fuzzy) and flowers that are edible, resembling the flavor of cucumber. They are also great for attracting bees, and they are dynamic accumulators, using deep taproots to pull up nutrients from deep soil and depositing them on the surface. It also repels cabbage worms and tomato hornworms.
Chrysanthemums are more known for inclusion in flower bouquets than working in a vegetable garden, but they are workhorses, so much so that they are often an ingredient in insecticides. They help with all sorts of garden pests, as well as household pests, such as roaches, fleas, ticks, bedbugs, and lice.
Lavender is a fantastic addition to gardens, especially near seating areas, where the soothing aroma can fill the air and keep visitors relaxed. However, like other very aromatic plants, pests tend to not be great fans. Lavender is a great help in repelling fleas (for pets) and moths (for plants), and it also attracts pollinators.
Garlic is yet another smelly addition to this list, only this time one that is more often noted as not necessarily being a pleasant smell, though some do love it. Garlic (and others, like chives, from the same family) repels a whole host of pests, including Japanese beetles, carrot flies, and moths.
Catnip, of course, will endear you to those domestic felines that might be milling about, but it will not make the garden pests happy. Troublesome squash bugs, beetles, aphids, and weevils will steer clear. Catnip also repels ants, and it can be used indoors (make small bags of dried catnip to place where it’s needed) for this purpose.
Petunias add a great flash of color in the garden, and though they come from a suspect family, known to have poisonous members, there are types of petunias — Petunia x hybrida — with flowers that can be eaten. Regardless, they are yet another plant known for ridding the garden of aphids, leafhoppers, worms, and beetles.
It’s amazing when we realize how many plants will actually help with pest problems. That’s why there is now such a movement away from monocultures and into biodiversity. Not only are we able to naturally repel pests with plants, but we are able to build gorgeous landscapes and diversify our harvests. Many of these plants are hardy, self-seeding, and/or perennial as well, which makes the job even easier.
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