Guardin’ the Garden

May 1, 2015

Insects, diseases, and animal pests can spoil your fun in the garden, chewing, wilting, or absconding with your cherished flowers or hard-won harvest. Listen to learn how to deter these interlopers without the use of pesticides or lethal controls.

This segment of The Old Farmer’s Almanac Garden Musings podcast series was written by George and Becky Lohmiller and is read by Heidi Stonehill, an Almanac editor.


When it comes to controlling pests in the vegetable garden, an ounce of prevention is often worth much more than a pound of cure. By taking just a few precautions, you can harvest tasty insect- and disease-free vegetables all season without using dangerous pesticides, and can keep animal intruders out of your garden with nonlethal controls.

Start by choosing plant varieties that are resistant to common insects and diseases. Stonehead cabbage, for example, is early-maturing and resists black rot and yellows. Burpless varieties of cucumbers are never bothered by cucumber beetles, and the ‘Big Beef’ and ‘Celebrity’ tomatoes are resistant to verticillium and fusarium wilt, tobacco mosaic virus, and nematodes. Before you put transplants into your garden, inspect them carefully. Removing a few insects or egg masses now will save you countless headaches later.

Pests are drawn to weak and unhealthy plants, so keep crops growing strong and stress-free by supplying them with consistent moisture, feeding as needed, and weeding. By not using poisons in your garden, you will be protecting the good bugs, like spiders, ladybugs, and lacewings, that prey on destructive insects. Planting a few flowers among your crops will provide an inviting habitat and help attract these garden heroes.

Rabbits, woodchucks, raccoons, and deer can do a lot of damage in short order. To repel rabbits and woodchucks, surround the garden with wood ashes or dried blood meal, or sprinkle wood ashes over the garden.

The smell of dog droppings or human scent will deter raccoons. Train your dog to do his thing near the edge of (not in) the garden, and ask your barber for a bag of hair to spread around your plants.

You can say “not tonight, deer” by ringing your garden with strings of flashing Christmas tree lights and hanging bags of strong-scented bath soap a few feet above the ground.

In the long run, it’s easier to keep pests and problem animals out of your garden than to evict them after they have taken up residence.

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