Pest control in the garden: ditch the chemicals

Sometimes 'pests' can get a bit out of hand and many people are tempted to reach for the bug killer. Fortunately, there is a better, more nature-friendly way.

A close up of a yellow leaf covered in raindrops.
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Sometimes creepy crawlies in the garden can get a bit out of hand. Many people have a particular nemesis that they struggle with. These critters tend to be labelled as ‘pests’, and many people reach for the bug killer. It might seem like the easy solution, but there are some real problems with this approach.

How to deal with ‘pests’ without harming wildlife

Watch as our wildlife gardening guru, Adrian Thomas, guides you through how to avoid using pesticides in your garden.

Why pesticides are harming your garden wildlife

The problem with pesticides

Most pesticides don't discriminate. They are likely to not only kill your target species but also harm all sorts of other wildlife, including the ones you want to stick around.

Blasting lots of minibeasts with chemicals also removes potential food for other wildlife. For example, if you have no aphids then what will ladybirds or hoverfly larvae or lacewings feed on?

A red ladybird crawling over the white petals of a daisy.

Understanding the problem

How do you deal with ‘pest’ problems if you ditch the nuclear option? First, think about why the problem occurred.

Using insecticides on your green space will only address the symptom, not the cause. Population booms in the garden only happen because we have created the environment that fulfills their needs.

Mix up your plants

You can help the situation by mixing up what you grow. If you grow rows and rows of one thing, chances are that some creepy crawlies will take a liking to it.

But if you grow a variety of plants, all mixed together, pests won’t have such a free for all. This is called polyculture and is part of the ethos of companion planting.

If you grow flowers like marigolds in between your lines of vegetables, they can provide nectar for hoverflies whose larvae then eat the aphids. The scent of the marigolds can also discourage vegetable-eating insects, so it’s win-win.

Encourage predators

By encouraging natural predators of any specific pest into the area, the pest in question will be controlled. Ladybirds, lacewings, frogs, Hedgehogs and birds are all great at limiting numbers of garden pests such as aphids and slugs.

A hedgehog on a rock amongst the greenery.

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Deterrents and barriers

Many potential garden pests are sensitive to specific features. Slugs for example do not like copper piping or the sharp edges of eggshells, so surrounding plants with such materials may keep many species away. Other methods to keep pests away are plastic bottles and straw around the base of plants.

A few handy hints

  • The key point to remember with pest control in gardens is that you are not trying to remove the pest completely but to protect your plants and crops from serious damage.
  • Most creatures that we see as pests are seen by our garden favourites as food, so encouraging more diversity within the garden is a win win.
  • Look for easy ways to solve your pest problems that don’t need pesticides.
  • Be patient, and use a trial and error approach to see what works.
  • Learn to tolerate some pests and damage. By avoiding pesticides, you’ll save plenty of time, money and wildlife in the long run.

This activity is part of Nature On Your Doorstep – our call-to-arms to transform your outdoor space (window boxes welcome!) into a wildlife haven.