Pesticides — even organic varieties — are not the safest, healthiest or most effective natural pest control options. The addition of certain plants to your food garden or farm will encourage biodiversity and a healthy population of beneficial garden insects that act as Mother Nature’s best organic pest control.
Not all insects are a threat to your garden plants, and many of them are actually helpful in fighting off other plant predators. Beneficial insects are broadly classified into pollinators, predators and parasites. Pollinators, such as bees, fertilize flowers, which increases the productivity of food crops. Predators, such as ladybirds and a host of other ‘bugs’, consume pest insects as food. Parasites use pests as nurseries for their young. On any given day, all three ‘P’s’ are feeding on pests or on flower pollen and nectar in a diversified garden. If you recognize these good bugs, it’s easier to appreciate their work and understand why it’s best not to use broad-spectrum herbicides.
The use of herbicides and pesticides can be detrimental to the complex relationships between plants, pests and predators. Pesticides, even organic varieties, make no distinction between helpful and hurtful insects, in the end their regular use can have many negative impacts, including the suppression of the soil food web and pollution of waterways. Instead, encouraging the presence of predatory warriors that will defend and protect your garden plants from common pests is not only an environmentally sound management strategy, it also encourages biodiversity and plant pollination.
You can keep your pest population under control by adding plants to attract beneficial insects. A general rule of thumb is to designate between 5 and 10 percent of your garden or farm space to plants that bring in beneficial insects. An important key is to plant so that there are blooms year-round — the beneficial insects will not stay or survive through a season if no food is available. Your garden will be beautiful all year-round with a variety of colourful blooms and humming insects.
Flower color: white, pink, yellow
The cheerful Shasta daisy is a classic perennial. It looks similar to the familiar roadside daisy but has larger and more robust blooms.
Shasta daisies tend to bloom in clumps from 2 to 3 feet tall and 1 to 2 feet wide. They bear all-white daisy petals, yellow disk florets, and contrasting glossy, dark green leaves.
Like clockwork, shastas return every spring or early summer and bloom until early fall. They are never invasive (like some consider roadside daisies to be) and they are terrific for cutting.
- Grow in full sun.
- Soil should be moderately fertile, not overly rich, moist but well-drained.
- Sow seeds in containers in a cold frame in autumn or spring. Divide perennials in early spring or late summer.
- If you seed directly, expect bloom the following spring after one season’s growth.
- If purchasing a plant in a container, plant in spring.
- Loosen the soil to a depth of 12 to 15 inches, then mix in a 2- to 4-inch layer of compost.
- Space plants 1 to 2 feet apart. Dig a hole twice the diameter of the container.
- When placing plant in the hole, make sure the top of the root ball is level with the soil surface.
- Fill around the root ball and firm the soil.
- Water thoroughly.
- Many of the taller plants need support/staking.
- Water during the summer only if rainfall is minimal
- After the first killing frost, cut stems back to an inch or two above the soil line.
- Every spring, apply some compost and mulch to help control weeds.
- Every 3 to 4 years, divide perennials again in early spring or late summer.
Osteospermum, or African daisies made a big splash in display gardens in the 1990s. They looked a little like daisies and they are in the Asteraceae family, along with Shasta daisies and zinnias. They come in a varierty of colours such as yellow and various shades of pink. Does well in semi- shade and full sun. A must have filler and bedding plant in any garden.
Grow reliable, long lasting and heat-tolerant marigolds to create a floral carpet of yellow, gold, orange, bronze and copper-red. Dwarf marigolds are useful for edging paths, brightening rockery pockets, containers and hanging baskets, and can be grown in the vegetable garden, where they are a deterrent to nematodes in the soil.
Lift a tired border with tall growing marigolds that are bold and showy. For a rich effect, combine bronze with gold shades. Grow with flowers of contrasting shape, such as day lilies, lime-green nicotiana and crocosmia.
Celosias are one of the most colourful and long-lasting summer bedding plants. There are two groups of celosias, those with ruffled, crested flowers called cockscombs, and those with silky, feathery flowers called plumes, known as Prince-of-Wales-feathers.
Celosias are usually yellow, orange and red, but there are pink varieties, such as ‘Flamingo Feather’ and ‘Castle Pink’ that suit pastel colour schemes. Grow tall varieties in mixed plantings, and dwarf kinds in bold groups, in containers, or in the front of borders. Plumes can be cut and dried for flower arrangements.