Gardening organically is one of the most important things to do if you want to make sure that you are living sustainably and doing the right thing in your outside spaces. Organic gardening means avoiding the use of harmful synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides; however, in an organic garden, avoidance of these harmful elements is just the beginning.
There is a range of common misunderstandings when it comes to organic pest control. It is important to understand that we should not simply be finding organic alternatives to common pesticides. We should be taking a far more holistic approach.
To help gardeners who want to be more eco-friendly and sustainable in their gardens, I thought it would be helpful to look at some of the most common misconceptions and mistakes people make in organic pest control.
Trying to Eliminate Pests Entirely
First things first, it is important, when trying to manage pests organically, to reevaluate your goals. I could list many examples of gardeners who have come to my garden consultancy asking how to “get rid” of a certain “pest” in their gardens.
Almost invariably, the answer is you shouldn’t. This is not the goal in organic pest control. A healthy, biodiverse, and sustainable garden should not be pest-free. It is important to remember that every creature within an ecosystem has its place. Each plays a vital role in the food chain and the environment, even those commonly thought of as pests.
The goal in any organic garden is not to eliminate pests entirely, but rather to protect certain plants, while keeping the ecosystem in balance and making sure that no one species gets out of control. In order to keep pests under control, we need to aim for as much biodiversity as possible—welcoming a varied range of wildlife including predatory species that keep pest numbers down.
To attract beneficial wildlife, we should be planting and adding other wildlife-friendly features to draw them into the space. But remember, the number one thing we need to attract predatory wildlife into our gardens is the very pests whose numbers we are trying to keep down. Without these pest species, the beneficial wildlife won’t have them to eat.
If we eliminate these pests, we eliminate their predators too. So, when these creatures inevitably return, there can be a boom in their populations since there will be nothing around to eat them.
Attempting to Fight Nature Rather Than Working With It
A common mistake people make when thinking about organic pest control is viewing the whole enterprise of organic gardening as waging war on the natural world.
In a garden we seek to tame, in some respects, the natural world. But rather than viewing it as a battle against the natural forces and wildlife around us, we need to reshape our thinking and instead aim to work in harmony with nature.
Organic pest control is best viewed as a collaboration. It can only be achieved when the efforts of the gardener combine with the function of the natural ecosystem as a whole. By looking and listening more closely, and by learning from nature, we can find solutions to work with the world around us to gain the yields we want and need.
We do not garden alone. This understanding is crucial in an organic garden. Every living organism within the system has a role to play. Pest control can become much simpler if, instead of waging war, we collaborate—making use of our knowledge of the natural world to combine plants in certain ways and bring beneficial wildlife to our space.
Jumping Straight to the ‘Nuclear Option’
Those looking into organic pest control for the first time will often jump straight to looking for alternatives to synthetic pest control products. But any pesticide, even an organic one, should only ever be considered in extremis—as the “nuclear option”, if you will.
Remember, if we kill pests, we are also cutting the food source for beneficial creatures that help keep pest numbers down. So, this can actually make matters worse in the long run. Before we look for organic pesticides, we should be delving deeper and making more fundamental changes to address any problems.
First, remember that plants will be far more resilient and able to withstand pest species if they are as healthy and happy as possible. This means that organic pest control always begins with choosing the right plants for the right places and caring for them correctly. We must understand their needs in terms of sunshine and shade, wind, water, and soil, and create optimal growing conditions.
Next, we should consider plant choices in reference not only to their own individual needs, but also recognize that plants interact in complex ways with one another. Companion planting is a key strategy in organic pest control. It involves choosing plants that will be good neighbors to one another—improving environmental conditions, attracting beneficial creatures, and/or repelling, confusing, or distracting certain pest species to keep their companions safe.
Ensuring plants are as healthy as possible and practicing companion planting can help to keep an ecosystem in balance. But of course, there will still be pests around. Sometimes, we can simply “live and let live”—considering plants or a proportion of yields lost to wildlife as “taxes” in our gardens.
Sometimes, however, those taxes might be extortionately high. Still, we do not have to resort immediately to pesticides, even organic ones. Instead, we should first consider physical barriers like fences, netting, fruit cages, or cloches to keep plants safe.
Thinking holistically and finding ways to keep pest numbers under control, rather than eliminating them entirely, will help you avoid some of the most common mistakes people make in organic pest control.