Pest or guest?

Wildlife gardening

Pest or guest?

© Nick Upton/2020VISION

It's not as simple as friend or foe

Each garden is a miniature ecosystem. By avoiding chemical control and attracting a rich diversity of bug life, you'll encourage beneficial insect predators, as well as animals such as hedgehogs, frogs, toads and slow worms.

Try the wildlife friendly control measures listed below to achieve equilibrium in the garden. With time and patience, you’ll end up with a rewarding, healthier garden for ditching the chemicals.

Beneficial insects

For a successful wildlife garden, it is best to adopt a ‘live and let live’ philosophy, which means allowing a balance of insect species to exist for their mutual benefit. Below are a list of desirable garden predators and how to attract them.

Ladybirds & Lacewings

Ladybirds are invaluable in the garden - both adult and larvae feed on destructive pests such as aphids, thrips, mealy bugs and mites. Some ladybirds even feed on powdery mildew fungal spores.

Another ‘must-have’ insect is the lacewing, which offers the wildlife gardener two for the price of one, as once again both the adult and ferocious looking larvae eat aphids, mites, leafhoppers and scale insects.

Hoverflies

The adult hoverfly, with its black and yellow stripes, mimics the wasp; but it is completely harmless and should be encouraged into the garden. The maggot-like larvae munches aphids by the dozen before emerging as an adult.

Plants that attract hoverflies include: Phacelia tancetifolia, poached egg plant, michaelmas daisy, sedum spectabile and candytuf, angelica, teasel and scabious.

Wasps

Although not everyone's favorite, the social wasp is of great use around the garden. The grubs of the wasp are fed almost entirely on caterpillars and other insects. By the end of the summer a nest may have consumed up to 250,000 insects.

Solitary wasps also feed their young on flies, aphids and caterpillars, and therefore should be encouraged into the wildlife garden.

Woodlice

Bibble-bugs, tiggy-hogs and fairy’s pigs are all former names for the woodlouse. These creatures are important in the breakdown of plant material. By eating decaying matter they help to retain nutrients in the soil. Encourage woodlice to your garden by building a log pile, compost bin or stone heap. 

The power of plants

By including plants that repel insects that do damage in the garden, you can help reduce their impact, whilst avoiding chemical controls that could kill other wildlife.

Plant list

Nettles

Leave a patch of nettles in one corner. Not only do they attract peacock, red admiral, painted lady, small tortoiseshell and comma butterflies, they are also a magnet for snails, drawing them away from vegetables and flowers.

Recommended plants to repel pests include:

✓ Tansy
✓ Marigold
✓ Mint
✓ Catnip
✓ Wormwood
✓ Chives
✓ Dill
✓ Fennel
✓ Rosemary
✓ Oregano
✓ Thyme

Companion planting

Growing certain plants together can be a pesticide free way to help protect them from insects that eat them or improve pollination of fruit and vegetable crops.

Most companion plants are strongly scented and confuse insects looking for their host plant. Others attract beneficial insects, such as ladybirds and lacewings, which prey on aphids.

How to companion plant

Chemical alternatives

Chemical pesticides don't just kill insects, they will harm the animals that eat them too. This is especially true of slugs and snails, which are eaten by birds, hedgehogs and slow worms. Try some of the chemical free control methods listed below to help create a balance in your garden.

Slugs and snails

Slug traps

Buy or make your own slug traps using yoghurt pots buried in the soil around your plants and fill with cheap beer or milk. Ensure the lip of the pot is at least 2cm clear of the soil so that ground beetles cannot get in.

Dig over your soil

Dig over your borders or vegetable plot in winter when the ground is cold and any slugs and their eggs will be exposed and killed or eaten by predators.

Nematodes

Try slug nematodes - a slug parasite that only targets slugs and is harmless to everything else.

Aphids

Spray infested plants with a mild solution of washing up liquid or strong jet of water. Plant nasturtiums in your vegetable plot to attract them away from your produce.

Red spider mite

In a greenhouse use the biological control, Phytoseiulus persimilis, a predatory mite.

Shelter for beneficial wildlife

A pile of logs in a shady corner and a hibernaculum for reptiles and amphibians make a good home for many of the garden’s welcome guests. Frogs, toads, slow worms, grass snakes, shrews, hedgehogs, ground beetles, centipedes and rove beetles will all use them as homes.

How to build a hibernaculum

How to make a log shelter

Slow worm

© Amy Lewis

Composting

A compost pile provides an excellent home for a number of beneficial garden residents such as slow worms and beetles, as well as pests, drawing them away from garden plants and flowers. Composting is also a great alternative to buying peat based compost, which is bad for the environment, and a cheap way to restore nutrients to your garden.

Compost bins can be made from old shipping pallets or other timber, or you can buy them from most garden centres or DIY stores. Whatever bin you choose, it must have a rainproof lid that does not blow away and a large top opening that enables you to turn the compost with a fork.

Compost bins do not have a base so excess liquid can drain away. Some bins have a removable front or ’chute’ at the base to allow you to extract rotten compost from the bottom of the heap. Check this is big enough to get a spade easily in and out. 

What to compost

Compostable materials include:

  • Grass clippings and leaves
  • Soft, leafy plants including annual weeds
  • Fruit and vegetables and their peelings (excempt citrus fruits and onions)
  • Ground coffe and loose tea or teabags made form natural materials
  • Some pet waste/bedding
  • Prunings and hedge trimmings (ideally shredded),
  • Woodchip
  • Leaves
  • Paper and card (torn up or shredded)
  • Straw
  • Plant stems
  • Sawdust from untreated wood
  • Poultry manure

What not to compost

Avoid putting these waste items in your compost pile:

  • Teabags made from synthetic materials
  • Meat (unless you are using a meat compatible compost bin)
  • Coal ash
  • Citrus peel and onions (the acid kills worms)
  • Glossy or coated paper
  • Sawdust from treated wood
  • Large branches or pieces of wood
  • Plastics
  • Cat litter & dog faeces
  • Disposable nappies
  • Glossy magazines

How to compost

Turning the heap

Turning your compost heap regulalrly with a garden fork or spade adds air, which is needed for the process of composting to occur. Aim to turn your compost around once a month.

Moisture

Keep your  compost heap moist in dry weather and avoid getting it too wet as this will hamper the composting process.

How to compost

How long does it take?

Garden compost takes between six months and two years before it is ready to use. Garden ready compost will be dark brown, have a crumbly soil-like texture and an earthy damp smell.

Remove any un-rotted material back to the compost bin, to be mixed with your next batch.

More about composting