By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist
As a member of the mint family, catnip has a similar appearance, but more importantly, it has the pungent oils characteristic of the group. This makes catnip as a companion plant very useful in the garden. The oils appear to repel certain pests and help keep your veggie and fruit plants healthier. Using catnip as pest repellent is an organic way to combat insect problems, keeping your garden safe.
If you have ever watched a feline near a catnip plant, it is obvious the attraction is very strong. Not only is catnip useful in kitty-friendly gardens, but it also combats several common insect pests. Collard greens, for example, are one of many companions for catnip. The oils in the herb repel flea beetles and keep the greens free of their feeding damage. There are many other plants to grow with catnip that benefit from the pungent scent.
The potent oils in catnip are unpleasant to many insects, such as:
That is quite a list for an easy-to-grow herb. Using catnip as a companion in the vegetable garden can help protect the plants from insect damage without having to resort to dangerous chemicals. Some plants to grow with catnip include:
The powerful scent of the herb also seems to repel mice and voles, two other pests of the veggie garden.
Catnip can get quite invasive, spreading rapidly through a bed. To avoid this, you can plant the herb in a container and then bury it near catnip companion plants. Obviously, the herb may attract cats to your garden, but the flowers also attract honeybees. If you don’t want cats right in the garden, use catnip as a border.
The cats will be so distracted by the delicious scent of the plant they may avoid the soft soil around your plants and do their business elsewhere. As an added bonus, you can enjoy a cat’s antics as it frolics among the scented leaves and blooms. Plenty of photo opportunities will ensue!
Catnip can be started from divisions, seed or cuttings. It grows rapidly and has few disease and pest issues itself. When planting catnip as pest repellent, situate the plant near those that need protection, in full sun and well-draining soil. Catnip can get leggy, so pinch young plants early to develop a denser, bushy form.
To use the plant in the home, cut stems and hang them upside down outside in a dry location. Once the herb leaves are dried, pull them off the stems. Crush leaves and sprinkle them around doors and window sills, as well as around the house where tiny insect invaders can gain entrance. The smell lasts for up to a week and will help prevent many insect pests from bugging your home.
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An endless struggle within the realm of gardening is keeping away bugs and insects that want to harm your crops. However, an easy way to naturally deter them is by planting the right herbs, flowers, and plants that repel pests.
Many of those that will be discussed below are also great additions to your patio and outdoor furniture.
These pest repelling plants naturally help to keep off ants, mosquitoes, and other insects when you’re outside enjoying the weather .
Below is a list of plants that repel bugs from your garden and home .
This planting process refers to making good use of companion plants for different reasons such as:
Repellent plants, as the name implies, are those plants that discourage harmful pests. Among the vegetables, there aren’t many repellent plants. However, the situation changes when it comes to herbs and flowers.
In recent years herb gardens have become more and more popular since herbs are easy to grow. They provide that fresh aroma that you can’t find anywhere else. Few people realize that herbs shouldn’t be planted all together. They should try and scatter them around the garden to help with pest management. The trick is to plant herbs where the pests they repel are likely to be.
Though there will always be skeptics, pretty much everyone agrees that the more diversity you have in the garden the fewer pests you will deal with. Include flowers and herbs with your vegetables. By doing this, you create a habitat for good insects and confuse the bad ones. The scents of certain herbs and flowers can interfere with a pest insect finding its preferred host plant.
Because companion planting nurtures a balanced environment and keeps many invasive pest populations in check, we can avoid chemical pest control. Large scale agricultural plots with no diversity rely heavily on chemicals for pest control. If we can plant different crops near each other, we can help prevent pests naturally.
Whenever I have read about companion planning with herbs, these have always been mentioned: mint, tansy, catnip, wormwood, dill, basic, parsley, fennel, and cilantro. Herbs like mints and tansy tend to be invasive so avoid planting them directly in the garden. Instead, put them planted in a pot near your vegetables.
dill flowers attract beneficial insects
The queen of flowers to use for pest control is nasturtium. It is thought not only to deter pests but also act as a “trap crop” for pests who prefer its taste over your prized vegetables.
Marigold attracts beneficial insects as well as protects against the root knot nematode. It may be even more beneficial as a cover crop.
Cosmos and alyssum attract all kinds of beneficial insects including bumble bees and syrphid flies.
We all hate it when our onions bolt because it means the bulb is no longer growing, but if it happens I always let it flower if I have room in my garden to do so. I had such a good time last year taking pictures of all the insects around my onion flowers.
If you don’t have to take out your lettuce after it bolts to plant something else, let it flower to help the rest of your garden. I hate when broccoli starts to flower (because that means no broccoli harvest), but sometimes it happens and I leave the flowers for as long as I can.
The flowers of bolting vegetables attract the mature insects that will lay eggs. When the eggs hatch, the larvae are usually the ones to eat the bad pests.
Include cover crops that will create a habitat for the good insects that you want in your garden. Letting it go to flower really does this well. I’ve used buckwheat as a mid-summer cover crop, and I’ve been amazed at the beneficial insects it has attracted. Crimson clover is also a good cover crop for this purpose. If the good guys have a place to live, they will feast on the bad pests.
I say “test” because what works in my garden may not work in yours. I have heard in several places that onions would repel cabbage worms. When I tried it in my garden, I had more cabbage worms than I usually do! What works for one garden may not work in another so test some combinations.
According to a study from Iowa State, whenever thyme was planted around crops susceptible to the cabbage worm and cabbage looper, it was the best at keeping them away. Following thyme was nasturtium and onion.
The same study found that marigold planted near zucchini plants helped prevent damage from the squash bug with nasturtium being another top deterrent.
Beds planted with basil and thyme were best able to repel the yellow striped armyworm. A different study showed that basil helped to repel the tomato hornworm as well.
Throw out your chemicals! Even your organic pesticides, while they may be helpful in some ways, will affect your garden. Anything that you use to kill the bad pests will also affect the beneficial insects in your garden.
Use your hands and pick or squash the bugs and eggs that you see. Use floating row covers if you need something to keep the bugs away. And work on creating healthy soil so your plants will produce enough in case you lose some to pests.
By using these principles, I’m confident you’ll find yourself on the path to an organic garden with fewer invasive pests. However, it does take time. If you’re used to spraying every insect in your garden, you’ll need to patiently wait for the good insects to notice your garden as a safe zone. If my garden is any indication, each year you’ll see a wider variety of those beneficial insects and fewer problems with destructive ones.
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