Gardening 101: Pet-friendly pest control


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A successful garden means keeping harmful bugs at bay, but many pesticides can be extremely dangerous to your pets. If you do choose to use pesticides, you must carefully read the instructions and keep your four-legged friends away from your crops once sprayed.

Or, you can choose any or all of the following pest-control options, most of which are pesticide-free — phew! — to keep your plants and pets happy and healthy.

Integrated pest management
According to WhatIsIPM.org: “IPM, as a partnership between homeowner and pest professional, can help protect your family against pest-associated health, property and quality of life threats.”

Not only is it an effective pest-control strategy, but IPM is built around the idea of using safe, environmentally sensitive, common-sense practices. This program relies on the life cycles of pests and their interaction with the environment, which is used in combination with various pest-control methods to manage pest damage with the “least possible hazard to people, property and the environment,” according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

There are four steps to this program, as outlined on the EPA’s website:

1. Set action thresholds
Just because you see a measly bug patrolling your garden doesn’t mean you have a problem. An action threshold is the point at which pest populations or environmental conditions signify the need for a pest-control action plan.

2. Monitor and identify pests
Not all insects and weeds require control. Some organisms can even be beneficial to your crops. IPM programs monitor for pests and identify them, so you can make the right decisions in eliminating pests.

3. Prevention
As a first line of defense, IPM programs manage your garden, lawn or indoor space to prevent pests from becoming a threat in the first place.

4. Control
If preventive methods are no longer working, IPM programs then evaluate the proper control method. Less risky pest controls are chosen first, including highly targeted chemicals — such as pheromones to disrupt pest mating — or mechanical control, such as trapping or weeding. If that doesn’t work, then additional pest control methods are used, such as targeted spraying of pesticides. Broadcast spraying of nonspecific pesticides is a last resort.

Beneficial plants
There are plants you can add to your garden that either invite beneficial insects or repel harmful ones. Trap plants, or repellent plants, are helpful in luring pests away from your crops. Once the pests build up around these plants, you need to destroy them — either by picking off the target insect and dropping it in soapy water or pulling up and disposing of the entire plant. According to Gardenguides.com, some good choices are marigolds, garlic, dandelions and basil.

Click here for more beneficial pest-control plants.

DIY sprays
If you’re so inclined, homemade sprays can be an effective form of pest control. Spraying water forcefully on your plants will knock pests off in the short term and must be done at least two times per week, according to Gardenguides.com. If your garden has mites, aphids or mealy bugs, Eartheasy.com suggests this recipe: Mix 1 tablespoon of canola oil and a few drops of Ivory soap into a quart of water. Shake well and spray plant from above down, and from below up.

For more homemade recipes, click here.

Bug-controlling bugs
While this may seem counterproductive, you can actually purchase bugs that will help control pest populations. Three pet-friendly insects, according to Gardenguides.com, are the aphid midge, lady beetles (ladybugs) and the parasite wasp. Aphid midge larva feed on most species of aphids; lady beetles feed on aphids, insect eggs and small, soft-bodied insects; and parasite wasps destroy insects by laying their eggs inside plant-destroying insects.

Pet-friendly pesticides
When you hear the word “pesticides,” we bet you automatically think of harmful chemicals. While many pesticides out there can be harmful to your pets, there are solutions on the market that claim to be safe for the whole family. Take EcoSmart, for example, whose mission is to “create the world’s safest, most effective pesticides based on natural ingredients.” The company’s products are “based on the natural defenses that plants and trees have used for their self-protection against insects and pathogens for millennia — essential oils,” according to EcoSmart’s website. The company’s Garden Insect Killer contains rosemary oil, peppermint oil, thyme oil, clove oil, water, mineral oil, octadecenoic acid potassium salt and lecithin.

Other methods
There are a number of other strategies that don’t involve spraying, bugs or other plants. Netting, such as cheesecloth, can be placed over your crops, which protects seedlings from chewing insects; keeps cats and birds away; and prevents flying insects from laying eggs. Nonflying insects can be trapped in tin cans buried in the bed of your garden so the lip of the can is flush with the surface. Some bugs will fall in, allowing you to simply empty the can of them.

Tell us: Have you had success with any of these methods? Or, do you have other pet-friendly, pest-control advice to share? Comment below.