Crop RotationIncorporating crop rotation into your garden plan is a huge step towards giving those garden pests the heave-ho. If you plant the same vegetables (or same vegetables in the same vegetable family) in the same location each year you are asking for all kinds of trouble with pests and depleted soil nutrients. Switch things up a bit each year and grow your vegetables in different areas of the vegetable garden. For instance, if you grew pole beans last season, grow tomatoes in that spot this year, and plant the pole beans where the tomatoes were. Not only does crop rotation help to keep your soil happier, but it will confuse and disorient those garden pests that are looking for the same plants they feasted on last year. Crop rotation can be a little less effective in battling pests if you have a smaller vegetable garden. The nasty bugs may still find your vegetables even with crop rotation, but it's a good way to get a jump on them.
Companion PlantingSomething else you definitely want to think about while planning your vegetable garden is companion planting. Companion planting can go a long ways towards deterring pests. If you have experienced problems with a particular pest, find out what plants that pest doesn't like and add it to your vegetable garden. For instance, squash bugs and cucumber beetles do not like radishes, root-knot nematodes are deterred by French marigolds, tomato hornworms can't stand basil and borage, and peppermint can help ward off flea beetles and cabbage moths. Companion planting can also help to improve the growth and flavor of vegetables. For a great guide on companion planting check out this awesome page from Golden Harvest Organics. Figure out what vegetables you intend to grow and what companion plants you can add to help deter possible pests before you ever sow the first seed. This can help keep pest numbers down tremendously.
Go on Larvae PatrolMany garden pests will overwinter in the soil as part of their lifecycle. Hornworms, flea beetles, squash bugs, and others, all lay eggs in the soil in and around their favorite vegetable plants in fall. The eggs typically overwinter in the soil and the babies emerge in spring to start wrecking havoc where the parents left off. If you find grub worms in your soil, they are the larvae of Japanese beetles. Keep a careful watch as you are cultivating, or loosening, the soil in spring. If you find the larvae, or eggs, destroy them immediately. Many of the eggs and larvae are so small it's very difficult to spot them without knowing exactly what you are looking for. It's still a good idea to keep an eye open for any small, unusual items you find in the soil - it could be an overwintering pest. You aren't going to be able to find every pest egg in your vegetable garden, so plan to use plastic garden mulch around your most attacked plants. Laying down planters garden mulch will create a barrier on the soil, and not allow those hibernating pests a way to emerge. This can trap many pests where they can't come out and do any harm.
Replace Container SoilIf you use containers to grow your vegetables you may want to replace the soil in them to prevent some pests. The garden pests may overwinter in the container soil, and be present will spring arrives. It's a good idea to replace it with fresh potting soil that will be insect free come spring. Your plants will also have fresh, nutrient-rich soil to from in as well.
Be PreparedLate winter is the perfect time to stock up on items for your garden pest defense. Having the supplies readily available can help you stay ahead of any pests that come sneaking into your vegetable garden. If you find a flea beetles problem, it could get much worse if you have to wait the two to three weeks it takes to order something. In that amount of time your little flea beetle problem could turn into a huge infestation. If you know flea beetles have been a problem in the past, gear up with the items needed to fight them before they become a problem. That way you will be ready as soon as you spot the pest.
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