When does a garden pest become a pest?

When does a garden pest become a pest?

Our garden space is shared with all kinds of denizens, mostly of the smaller kind. These friendly neighborhood admirers of our gardens stake out a place in our gardens unbeknownst to us during the night while we sleep; even during the broad daylight. They form their own dynamic communities and self-run the place (with or without our approval). Most of the time, it’s a jungle out there!

Sounds familiar? These otherwise harmless creatures are none other than your friendly neighborhood garden pests.

Firstly, let’s understand the term – pest. According to the Taylors Dictionary for Gardeners:

Any insect or other creature that damages plants. Strictly speaking, bacteria and viruses are diseases, not pests, although in practical terms, these—and also weeds—are considered by gardeners to be pests.

That sounds just about right. But sometimes, we take things too far to include anything that is a nuisance. In hindsight, our gardens are just self functioning ecosystems which should be allowed a certain level of autonomy.

Some pests play a bigger role in the overall scheme of things than we would realize. Their presence is a natural component of your garden in most cases anyway. In Mother Nature’s way of check and balance, no one creature predominates, as natural forces like drought or predators soon maintains a state of equilibrium.

grasshopper garden pest

What we should be striving for, is a balanced garden requiring as little intervention on our part as far as possible. Intervention may destroy the good guys along with the bad guys (which isn’t fair to them), and upset the ecological balance of your garden. Plus, returning the ecological cycle back to its previous level takes time and effort. This is one of the ideas in permaculture as well.

So before you decide on a course of action, take out a notebook and jot down the overall situation. Some questions you might want to ask yourself as you survey your garden are:

  • What is the identified pest?
  • Is the damage limited to a certain plant?
  • Are the pests seasonal?
  • Is the damage getting worse?
  • When did the problem begin?
  • Any creatures to be recruited to serve as natural predators of the pest?

caterpillar garden pest

Once you obtain a better picture of the situation, you can proceed to consider several courses of action to take (or not).

  • Restraining measures like physically removing the pests or uprooting and washing the plants themselves.
  • Using biological control by recruiting naturally occurring predators of the pests. Let others do the job for you. For example, tiny mites can be controlled by lacewing larvae, which do a much better job than you ever could. Get toads to come stay in your garden and eat up the pests.
  • Chemical controls are the last resort, as chemicals kill both good and bad inhabitants of your garden and the chemical effects can persist long after the spraying is done. Just like Noah’s Flood destroyed everything in a deluge of water, so you could end up taking out the entire community of inhabitants in your garden 🙂
  • Sometimes, doing nothing at all works! The infestation might be seasonal and confined to a small portion of your garden. It might be that the problem is at the crest of the peak already. For example, oak moth infestations increase throughout spring and summer, usually reaching its peak in late August-September, subsiding thereafter, and in some years, do not even occur.

Knowing when to identify a pest as a pest, and taking the right course of action is as important as learning how to grow a bulb or growing a raised flower bed. Pests have and always will be an integral aspect to gardening, because in the realm of Mother Nature, there is no such thing as a pest, only co-existence of every living thing. A garden is but a creation of the human mind, and to obtain a trouble free garden, being as natural as possible is often the best policy to follow.

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