All winter, you think about sitting in your lush garden and enjoying your backyard with friends and family. You tend flowers and shrubs. You plant an array of yummy veggies. And when it’s finally warm enough to sit outside … the irritating buzz of insects invades your outdoor retreat, and you notice a bunny has chewed through your seedlings.
While there’s no such thing as a pest-free garden or yard, experts say a few easy precautions can keep uninvited guests from your outdoor space.
The Critters: Caterpillars
Control Them: When dealing with leaf-chewing worms like caterpillars, use a larvicide such as Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis), a naturally occurring pesticide. It can protect your fruits and vegetables (by paralyzing the worms’ digestive system) without harming other insects that may be beneficial to your garden, says Wendy Hanson Mazet, program coordinator at the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. Reapply once a week until all the critters are gone.
The Critters: Mosquitoes
Control Them: Now that Zika has made its way into the States, it’s more critical than ever to repel disease-carrying mosquitoes. Eliminating sources of standing water will help prevent them from reproducing, says Michael Waldvogel, professor of entomology at NC State University. Try planting citronella, marigolds or lavender, which can ward off these pesky biters.
The Critters: Wild Mammals
Control Them: To keep nibbling animals at bay, install a fence at least four feet high and buried six inches into the ground, and wrap trees with two-foot-wide hardware cloth, says Clyde Sorenson, professor of entomology at NC State. And keep your trash secure to protect it from hungry raccoons.
The Critters: Aphids
Control Them: These bugs feed on leaves, causing curling and discoloration, says Hanson Mazet. Hit plants with a forceful spray of water in the morning (when your hose water is cold and the bugs are too sleepy to fly away); in many cases this will kill the soft-bodied aphids. Avoid nitrogen fertilizers, since the bugs are attracted to the chemical.
The Critters: Ants
Control Them: Installing a paved patio about 10 feet from the house to the lawn can help keep ants away, says landscape designer Julie Moir Messervy. (It reduces areas where they can nest.) Don’t plant the area close to the patio with flowers that produce nectar, such as peonies and tulips, which the bugs feed on.
The Critters: Ticks
Control Them: Create a tick barrier by laying a three-foot-wide buffer of wood chips or rocks between recreational areas of the yard and woods that it borders, says Messervy. Doing this may also help reduce encounters with mosquitoes, too.
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By Nicole Cherie Jones
Illustration by Jason Schneider