Insects and pests can infest your garden and severely impact the growth and yield of your plants. Even one pest can become a massive problem for the health of your flora.
What can you do to protect your garden from pests?
1. Maintain healthy soil (if you have soil).
Most insects are soil-borne, meaning they come from and live in the soil. If you have an outdoor or soil-based system, you have a greater risk of pests and insects finding their way to your garden.
Healthy soil can help your plants better withstand attacks from pests. To maintain healthful soil, you should:
- Limit soil disturbance, like runoff and erosion.
- Start a compost bin to create your own nutrient-rich soil.
- Add fresh mulch often.
- Rotate crops seasonally.
- Plant cover crops.
However, even with the best soil practices, you are still susceptible to insects and pests. If you want to completely limit the number of pests accessible to your garden, you need a hydroponic, soilless system.
2. Use a hydroponic gardening system.
Hydroponic systems don’t use soil, which takes away the breeding grounds of the majority of insects. Moreover, hydroponic systems are usually held indoors, which limits exposure to wild pests. Grow tents are an especially effective barrier to help contain and protect plants.
There is also greater control with a hydroponic system. If a pest somehow finds its way into your hydroponic system, you have a more controlled environment to effectively and quickly treat the pest. It’s rare that you’ll end up with an extensive infestation that kills an entire crop, as you might with an outdoor soil garden.
Another added bonus of hydroponic systems is that there are no weeds. Birds and bugs can’t transport weed seeds to the soil. Gardeners love not having to pick and pull at weeds that could otherwise suffocate their plants. Plus, there is no need to use herbicides on your plants because there are no weeds. This helps plants grow faster and more productively, ending with a healthier yield of flowers, fruits, and vegetables.
3. Know the difference between helpful and harmful pests.
Some pests can actually help your plants grow and flourish by providing nutrients and removing harmful pests. Helpful pests include:
- Praying mantis
- Green lacewings
- Predator flies
(If you have an indoor hydroponic system, you may not want any pests in your home. Below we’ll go through natural ways to get rid of all pests, including helpful pests.)
You want to keep an eye out for harmful pests that eat away at your plant leaves, steal the plants’ nutrients, and introduce harmful plant disease. Bad pests include:
- Mites (spider mites)
- Slugs and snails
- Flea beetles
- Cabbage worms and cabbage moths
- White flies and aphids
- Parsley worms
4. Know the signs of infestation.
Monitor your garden closely at least once a week to check for signs of a potential infestation. It’s best to catch pests before they spread and do more damage to your garden.
Look for the following signs and their potential pests:
- Deformed leaves: aphids
- Discolored leaves (browned, yellowed): thrips and mites
- Chewed or skeletonized leaves: beetles, caterpillars, sawflies
- Leaf galls (growths on leaf): cynipid wasps, aphids, mites
- Leaf mines (white lines on leaf): beetles, flies, or moth larvae
- Folded leaves: caterpillars, tree crickets, some spiders
- Rolled leaves: mites, caterpillars
- Chewed leaves with slime trails: slugs and snails
You should also check the underside of the leaf often. This is where bugs usually congregate and lay eggs.
5. Plant aromatic plants.
Along with your typical crop, plant a few aromatic plants as well. These plants release odors that insects don’t like, so it can help keep away hungry insects. This is a great solution for hydroponic systems because you’ll deter pests and have additional plant yield.
Aromatic plants include: basil, marigolds, sage, lavender, lemongrass, rosemary, mint, dill, and thyme.
6. Use aluminum foil.
If you have a soil system, you can deter insects with light reflection. Shred aluminum foil into small strips and mix in with garden mulch. This will reflect light on to the plants, which “blinds” insects so they can’t get close. This reflection may even help your plants with photosynthesis, especially in geographical areas that don’t have a lot of sun.
For a hydroponic system, the grow tent’s reflective interior can have this same discouraging effect on pests.
Bonus: Place crushed eggshells around your garden. Pests will stay away from the sharp edges.
7. Use natural pesticides.
There are a variety of natural, eco-friendly pesticides you can use to prevent and treat infestations. Below we go through some of our favorite options based on the pests they best attack.
- Spicy Pesticide
In a half-gallon of water, mix 1 tablespoon of cayenne pepper and four chopped up peppers. Boil the mixture on the stove for 15 minutes. Let cool and strain through cheesecloth. Add 1 tablespoon of dishwashing liquid to the mix. Place in a spray bottle and spray your plants every five days. Almost all insects dislike the spicy odor of the peppers, cayenne, and soap. This liquid also won’t damage your plants if you spray it in a light mist.
- Vampire Pesticide
This mix uses garlic, which is a known insect deterrent. In 1 gallon of water, mix a few cloves of crushed garlic, 1/4 cup of canola oil, 3 tablespoons of hot pepper sauce, and 1/2 teaspoon of liquid soap. Place in a spray bottle and mist on plants once per week.
- Smoothie Pesticide
In a blender, puree 4 onions, 2 cloves of garlic, 2 tablespoons of cayenne pepper, and 1 quart of water. In a separate container, dilute 2 tablespoons of liquid soap in 2 gallons of water. Mix the puree and water together and shake well. Spray on plants weekly for a natural, nutrient-rich pesticide.
Tip: Don’t throw out your orange or banana peels. Place on the soil or in your grow tent to deter ants and aphids.
Earwigs: If you have an infestation, roll up a wet newspaper with a rubber band so it won’t unravel. Place the paper towel in an area where you’ve seen the insects. Leave overnight, and in the morning it will be filled with bugs. Use gloves to place the newspaper in a plastic grocery bag; tie in a knot and put in the trash. Keep using this technique until all of the earwigs are attracted and discarded.
Cutworms: Cutworms kill seedlings by encircling the stem, so you want to prevent their ability to reach the stem. Stick a toothpick in the soil ¼ inch from the stem. Cutworms are unlikely to grow in hydroponic systems.
Flies: For outdoor flies, fill a bowl of water and place around the garden. In the house, fill a zip-lock bag halfway with water and attach over entryways. This will attract and drown the flies.
Fruit flies: Place an open container of apple cider vinegar near plants. This will instantly send fruit flies packing.
Fungus: Sprinkle cinnamon right on fungus to start drying up and removing spores.
Mealy bugs: Soak Q-tips in white vinegar. Dab the insects directly to kill them instantly. Be careful to avoid touching the plants with white vinegar, as the acidity can damage them.
Mildew: Create a mixture of milk and water with a one to one ratio. Using a rag, wipe the mixture on leaves covered in mildew. This will safely remove and kill mildew spores.
Slugs/snails: Sprinkle salt around your garden. This will dry up any slugs or snails, which are made primarily of water.
8. Use sticky traps.
Although hydroponic systems have a lowered risk of pests, insects can still find their way into your home. Hang sticky traps in your grow tent. This will help you quickly identify any pests for quick evaluation and treatment of infestations. Use a blue stick card for thrips and a yellow card for gnats and whiteflies. Place sticky traps close to the medium level where the bugs are.
You can also use sticky traps in an outdoor garden, kept near the soil.
9. Provide nutrients.
If your plants have had any kind of infestation, their nutrients will likely be depleted. You want to reintroduce nutrients back into the medium to help renew your plants’ strength. Find the best nutrients here.
The Bottom Line
Pests are a natural part of gardening, but you can prepare yourself with natural pesticides and proactive inspections.
Avoid pests entirely with an indoor hydroponic gardening. From a soilless medium to a contained grow tent, hydroponics reduce pest infestations and increase plant yield.
Contact us NOW to avoid damaging pests and grow healthy plants with a hydroponic garden.