How to keep your garden bug free

Date
Published in
Prima (UK)
Written by
Kim Wilde

Bothered by bugs? Kim Wilde has the answers to dealing with garden pests.

The vast majority of insects are harmless to plants. In fact, many are beneficial and should be encouraged into your garden. By attracting creatures such as hoverflies, ladybirds, centipedes and spiders, the need to resort to pesticides and chemical warfare can be greatly reduced, if not eliminated. Of course, a low level of pest activity will need to be tolerated in order to provide a food source for the predators, but it's a small price to pay for a healthier and happier garden, and I think it's a far better option than chemical control.

Attracting beneficial wildlife
Encourage useful insects by growing a wide range of plants. Herbs such as dill and fennel will attract hoverflies which then go to work on the aphids. Grow daisy-like flowers such as pot marigolds (calendula), windflowers (anemones) and poppies (papaver), which are particularly accessible and attractive to insects - single-flowered varieties being more so than double-flowered ones.
Hedgehogs can be helped to take up residence if you provide a simple hibernation site, such as a pile of leaves or logs (tinned dog food will provide an added incentive), and they reward you by feasting on your slugs and caterpillars at night.
Frogs, toads and newts all prey on slugs and pests. Support them by creating a pond, which will attract a wide variety of wildlife. A pond is also an ideal source of water for birds, many of which eat pests. Starlings, sparrows, song thrushes and wrens will all help clear your garden of unwanted guests. Hang suitable food from trees - you can buy commercial wild bird food from garden centres. You could also get a bird table and put out breakfast scraps - be sure to position it out of reach of lurking cats. Also, put up a few nesting boxes and to deter cats, choose trees without lower branches. Conscientious cat owners could attach a small bell to their pet's collar to foil any pouncing behaviour.

The culprits

Slugs and snails
Feeding mainly at night, especially after rain, these incredibly destructive pests are top of the list. I've tried sinking tubs of beer into the ground as traps, but only found one drowned - though presumably happy - slug, while all its mates continued to munch on merrily. Recently I've been told that a breakfast of Weetabix or muesli will cause them to swell up, resulting in death by breakfast. Creating a barrier around your plants with coarsely crushed eggeshells or sharp gravel seems to have varying rates of success.
I've also found that making a barrier around my lupins from the thorny stems pruned from my rugosa roses stops slugs advancing on them for a feast.
Nemaslug is a natural product, which uses nematode worms to attack and kill slugs. Simply water it into affected areas and the nematodes will seek out and destroy the slugs. If slug pellets are your first choice, put them down sparingly in February, so that emerging slugs are killed before they breed.

Aphids
As well as the common greenfly, aphids can be black, yellow, pink, grey or coated with a sticky white wool. They can cause plants to distort and discolour, and a black sooty mould grows on their sticky secretions. Most aphids can be rubbed off with your fingers but if stronger methods are required, use primicarb, which controls aphids specifically. Nasturtiums attract aphids and can be grown to lure them away from other plants prone to aphid damage. Roses are vulnerable to aphid attack, so try planting them alongside alliums and catmint, which are said to deter aphids - I've found this method very successful in my garden. A colleague of mine recently told me that a clove of garlic pushed about 3cm into the soil, close to the base of your roses, would do the job just as well.

Millipedes
Don't confuse these with centipedes, which are beneficial in the garden. You can identify centipedes with their one pair of legs per body segment, while millipedes have two pairs. Millepedes are hard to control, but frequent hoeing to keep the soil disturbed will help. Strawberries, soft growth and seedlings are the main millepede diet, especially for the spotted snake millipede, which has a creamy-white body about 2cm long.

Earwigs
By rights, earwigs deserve to appear on the list of beneficial insects as well, as they eat aphids. However, the curved pincers at the rear end of these little brown insects are enough to send me into a rage. Many plants, including clematis, dahlias, chrysanthemums and French marigolds, are top of the menu for earwigs, with young leaves and flowers considered a delicacy. Stuff flowerpots with straw in the spring and place them upside down on canes next to your plants, to provide a perfect hiding place for earwigs during the day. Simply collect the pots before the earwigs start to get active at dusk - and exterminate with boiling water or pesticide...

Vine weevils
Vine weevil grubs are plump, white and up to 1cm long. Adult vine weevils are beetle shaped, with a grey/black body. Container-grown plants are among the most susceptible victims. If you're buying a container plant, always check the roots first for grubs. Adult vine weevils make notches on leaf edges and will probably have laid eggs in the soil, too, which will hatch into larvae that will gnaw away at the roots. Plants wilt, discolour and then die as their roots are eaten away. For container plants, try using double-sided adhesive tape around the rim, which may be enough to stop adult weevils crawling over to lay their eggs in the compost.
Biological controls are also available. Nematode worms kill and feed on the vine weevil grub's body and very effectively protect potted plants. They are usually sent by post but, as they are alive, it is essential to follow instructions carefully. Otherwise, remove and squash any grubs or adults you find.
Levington Plant Protection Compost comes ready to attack any vine weevil opportunists. Only use it on ornamental plants, as it contains chemicals that have yet to be approved for edible plants such as strawberries. Provado Bio is another effective chemical mix. Chemical controls must be treated with caution, so use them as instructed on the label and keep them well out of reach of children and animals.

Garden of the month

Sissinghurst Casde Garden, Sissinghurst, nr Cranbrook, Kent TNI7 2AB
(01580 710701) Romantic and lush are just two words to describe this six-acre creation by the writer Vita Sackville-West and husband Harold Nicolson. Revel in the heady rose garden and striking cottage garden - but visit early or late to avoid crowds. Prams and pushchairs not admitted.

What's in bloom

There's something exotic about poppies, which are easy to grow and sturdy. For summer colour, go for Papaverrhoeas Shirley Series. Lavender is another must for this time of year. The silvery Lavandula angustifolia 'Hidcote', 'Loddon Pink', and the purple 'Munstead' are all firm favourites. If you're looking tor a climber, you can't do better than Jasminum officinale 'Argenteovariegatum'.
Train it over a seat and then bask in the glorious scent as you relax in your garden.

Things to do in July
  • Water lawns well in dry spells
  • Hoe and weed beneath hedges
  • Remove dust that has blown through windows onto houseplants
  • Keep an eye out for early signs of pests and diseases
  • Start thinking about ordering autumn bulbs
  • Prune apple trees that are espalier trained (branches fixed horizontally) and cordon trained (straight stemmed trees with short side shoots)
Make a bed for plants to lie in

If you have a small garden or patio, creating raised beds is a simple solution that pays dividends - especially if you have trouble bending to weed or are wheelchair-bound. A bed about 60cm high is ideal.
To make a bed, use bricks, wooden blocks or railway sleepers as boundaries, and fill with compost, leaf mould and topsoil. Ensure that the soit is not wet and sticky, and is free frorn the roots of perennial weeds - these could prove tricky to remove once the bed is finished. You also need to make sure that drainage is good. To do this, fill the bottom of your bed with half bricks and rubble, and mix gravel in with the topsoil.
Raised beds are great for displaying alpine plants and ideal for plants that your garden's soil might not usually allow - the classic example is rhododendrons, which need acid soil. The lovely Rhododendron 'Vuyk's Rosy Red' is perfect for small gardens or beds in full sun or dappled shade. It grows to around 75cm high.

Prima solution

Q: Believe it or not, I actually quite enjoy weeding, but have trouble getting up really small weedlings. Is there any special tool that I can use?
A: One of the best tips that I ever heard was from a gardener friend who swears by eyebrow tweezers for removing tiny weeds. It really works.