Guardians of the Garden: Effective Strategies to Keep Pests Out and Plants Thriving

Whether you’re a gardening pro or a newbie, pests can put a damper on any gardening season. Luckily, we got some tips from SJ Mag’s resident gardener, Toni Farmer, to help keep the unwanted visitors away. 


Check plants regularly

The best way to handle a pest in your garden is to start early. There’s not much worse than coming out to a bushel of big tomatoes that are all half eaten by an unwelcome visitor. Make sure you’re regularly checking your garden for signs of pests both large and small, like bites in leaves or holes in a fence. 

Only worry about an infestation

We have to accept it, we’re going to find bugs in our garden each season. It’s natural. And they’re not always a bad thing. Do some research on the bugs you might find in your garden to know the good ones from the bad ones. And remember, if you have one or two bad bugs, that won’t ruin your harvest, says Toni. When you need to worry is if you encounter an infestation – that’s when you have to take action. 

Cayenne Pepper 

If you do see signs of a critter visitor and want to deter them humanely, just head to your spice cabinet. Sprinkling cayenne pepper on the soil in your garden – not on the actual plant – can deter chipmunks, squirrels and groundhogs who might become a problem. The pepper gets on their paws and creates an irritating (but not harmful) burning feeling.  


Sometimes, you have to get physical. Draping a net over certain plants or even building a structure with chicken wire to surround your garden will keep birds, fox and even deer from reaching your delicious harvests. 

Pay attention to whether you’re buying bird netting or bug netting – there’s a difference. And if you are buying bug netting, Toni has two tips. First, make sure your plant doesn’t need bees to be fertilized. Second, make sure you’ve tightly secured it with rocks or other objects, a quick storm can easily blow your netting off the plant and ruin your efforts. 

Pick them off 

Sometimes, we’ve just got to get our hands dirty. For middle-of-the-road bug intruders – so, not an infestation and not just a single bug – Toni recommends just picking them off and flicking them into a jar with rubbing alcohol. 

Sacrificial Plants 

Sometimes we have to give the insects what they want – in a way. Planting sacrificial plants in your garden will act as a decoy to keep the crops you care about safe. For instance, if you (like Toni and many other South Jersey gardeners this season) are having a problem with aphids, try planting milkweed – it’s their favorite and will distract them from your crops. 

Another tip: if you’re having problems with squash vine borer, try planting a hubbard squash to distract them.    

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