Droplets of rain on green leaves

Pests: ditch the chemicals

No matter how big or small your space is, whether it's a blank canvas or well-established, if you’ve got loads of experience or none whatsoever – anyone can do this, and our nature needs you. It’s easy to help the nature on your doorstep.

Too much of a good thing!

Sometimes in gardens and greenspaces creepy-crawlies can get a bit out of hand for our liking. Aphids maybe, or whitefly, or ants… you probably have your own particular nemesis.

They tend to be labelled as ‘pests’, and the easy solution might be to reach straight for the spray-can of bug killer. It may appear to be addressing the issue, but there are some real problems with this approach.

A snail chewing through a green leaf
Adrian Thomas holding up a pesticide bottle

How to deal with ‘pests’ without harming wildlife

Watch as our wildlife gardening guru, Adrian Thomas, guides you through how to turn your patch into paradise, bring you great pleasure and boost the wildlife you’ll see and hear. And you don’t even have to be green-fingered to achieve it!

Ladybird on purple flower

The problem with pesticides

Firstly, it is unusual for pesticides to be wholly selective. In other words, they are likely to not only kill your target species but also harm all sorts of other wildlife, including ones that you might feel much warmer towards.

Secondly, blasting lots of minibeasts with chemicals removes potential food for other wildlife. For example, if you have no aphids then what will ladybirds or hoverfly larvae or lacewings feed on? It is like taking out the bottom storey of a house of cards – you risk all those layers above crashing down.

Close up image of wildflowers against a wood fence

Understanding the problem

But how do you deal with ‘pest’ problems if you ditch the nuclear option? Well, probably the most important thing to think about is why the problem occurred in the first place. In blasting an issue with insecticides, you are only addressing the symptom, not the cause. Populations of creatures only build up because we are fulfilling their needs.

Think about a vegetable patch where there is a line of cabbages. It is likely that all other plants (‘weeds’) have been removed so there is nothing growing but cabbages. If you are an insect that likes cabbages, you must think all your Christmases have come at once – we’ve laid it on a plate for them! We shouldn’t be surprised if their population goes through the roof.

Hoverfly on a purple flower

Mix it up a bit!

You can apply that thinking throughout your greenspace. If you grow a glut of something, there is every chance that some creature will take advantage.

But if you grow a variety of plants, all mixed together rather than in serried ranks, pests won’t have such a free-for-all. You’ve probably heard of monoculture – this is its antithesis, called polyculture.

It is part of the ethos of what is called ‘companion planting’. This is where you grow plants such as marigolds (so simple to start from seed) in between your lines of vegetables. The marigolds provide nectar for hoverflies whose larvae then munch the aphids. And the scent of the marigolds can also confuse vegetable-munching insects into thinking that this isn’t such an ideal place to live in after all.

A few handy hints

  • Look for easy ways to solve your pest problems that don’t need pesticides
  • Let nature find its own balance
  • Be patient, relying on the friendly nature to eat the not-so-friendly nature takes time
  • Learn to tolerate some pests and some damage
  • By avoiding pesticides, you’ll save plenty of time and money in the long run, as well as the nature we all love

So put down the spray guns and go for a much more relaxed and nature-rich space instead.

Blue tit perched on a clothes peg
Wellies planted with flowers

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