Repel Harmful Insects With Plants


Infestations of harmful insects are the bane of any gardener’s existence. There is nothing quite so disappointing to come to the garden one morning and find holes chewed into the leaves or stems of vegetables and ornamentals you have been painstakingly cultivating from seed.

While there are several different methods to controlling insects in your garden, a number of them have drawbacks. Chemical insecticides not only introduce toxins to the garden, they may be passed on to you or anyone else who eats the vegetables you grow. Chemical insecticides are also not sustainable in the sense that they do not help to create an ecological balance in the garden. A truly healthy garden grows best when it reflects the natural world’s checks and balances. Insecticides, whether organic or inorganic, also do not discriminate between harmful insects and beneficial ones — the insects which will patrol your garden and devour unwanted intruders.

There are a number of fragrant, attractive, and edible plants and herbs that you can grow in your garden which will act as a deterrent for the vast majority of insect pests. They will not keep harmful insects out of your garden altogether, but if they are planted in tandem with the vegetables and ornamentals you want to protect, they will go a long way to keeping pests away from your prize plants.

The technique of planting deterrent plants among those you wish to protect is part of a strategy called companion planting. Companion planting is quite simply the practice of growing plants together that benefit one another. Certain techniques involve planting vegetables that take nitrogen from the soil with those that return it to the soil; planting tall plants like sunflowers with climbing vegetables like beans, to act as natural trellises; and, as discussed here, planting fragrant herbs and flowers among vegetables and ornamentals to protect them from pests.

What follows is a list of deterrent plants, along with those insects they best repel along with care instructions. It is best to plant a mix of deterrents for any pests you wish to keep at bay. A balanced mix of deterrent plants will act as a strong repellant to pests. Individual vegetables can be ringed with deterrent plants, or you can alternate vegetables with deterrents. In addition to this, it is wise to border your garden beds with a row or two of deterrent plants.

Deterrent plant Pests repelled Planting and care
Mint, spearmint Ants, Aphids, Cabbage maggots, Mice Plant in full sun and water regularly. Pick mint leaves regularly to encourage vigorous growth.
Garlic Aphids, Japanese beetles, Mites, Plum curculio, weevils Soak individual cloves before planting. Plant in full sun and water moderately.
Marigold White flies, Tomato hornworms, Eelworms, Nematodes, Mexican bean beetles Start seeds indoors before last frost. Transplant seedlings two to four weeks after the frost partial to full sun in well-drained soil. Prune flowers regularly to promote robust growth.
Geraniums Japanese beetle, Leafhoppers, Rose chafers Plant seedlings in full to moderate sun. Water moderately. Prune flowers regularly to promote robust growth.Bring indoors to overwinter in zones 7 and below.
Nasturtium Aphids, Cabbage moth, Squash bugs, Striped pumpkin beetle, Whiteflies Plant in full sun in well drained soil. Water moderately. Prune flowers regularly to promote robust growth.
Rosemary Cabbage maggot, Cabbage moth, Carrot fly, Mexican bean beetle, Slugs and snails (Prostate Rosemary in particular) Plant in full sun in well drained soil. Water moderately. Prune tops as buds appear, and bring indoors to overwinter in zones 7 and below.
Petunia Aphids, Leafhopper, Mexican bean beetle, Rose chafer, Squash bug Plant in full sun in well drained soil. Water moderately. Prune flowers regularly to promote robust growth.

Attract Beneficial Insects With Plants

Insects that can act as a predatory police force in your garden will help to keep it free of pests throughout the growing season. While you can order beneficial insects online, this can get expensive, and they can occasionally arrive in less than perfect condition. Even if you do release beneficial insects into your garden, they will not stay unless conditions are optimal for them.

You can circumvent both of these problems by planting vegetables and ornamentals that naturally attract beneficial insects to your garden and encourage those already there to stay. For example, leafy greens are feasts for hungry aphids, and should be protected by ladybugs and praying mantises. The latter insects can be attracted to your garden in turn by planting dill and fennel around your lettuce.

There are many more insects that you can attract to your garden which will keep harmful pests at bay, and which are not harmful to humans or plants. They include green lacewings, parasitic wasps, damsel flies, hoverflies, and bees.

The following list explains which plants attract each of these beneficial insects, and has notes on planting and care of each.

Green Lacewings

Green Lacewings
Green Lacewings are beautifully iridescent insects with brown or green wings. Their larvae do most of the work destroying pests such as mites and aphids. They are sometimes called aphid lions because of this.

Green Lacewing Attractors
Common name Planting and Care
Dill Plant in full sun in well-drained rich soil. May need to be staked. Water regularly. Harvest individual leaves as plant matures.
Fennel Plant in full sun in well-drained soil. Water moderately. Survives light frost. Harvest individual leaves as plant matures.
Queen Anne’s Lace Plant in full sun  in well-drained, sandy soil. Tolerates some shade and requires little maintenance. Water moderately.
Prairie sunflower Plant in full sun and water moderately. Somewhat drought tolerant.
Coriander Plant in moderate sun as coriander prefers some shade at the hottest part of the day. Water moderately.

Ladybugs are a boon to any garden. The larvae are voracious eaters of aphids and mites, and both they and the adults will quickly eradicate infestations of either.

Ladybug Attractors
Common name Planting and Care
Marigold Start seeds indoors before last frost. Transplant seedlings two to four weeks after the frost partial to full sun in well-drained soil. Prune flowers regularly to promote robust growth.
Fennel Plant in full sun in well-drained soil. Water moderately. Survives light frost. Harvest individual leaves as plant matures.
Butterfly weed Plant in full sun in well-drained soil. Water moderately.
Prairie sunflower Plant in full sun and water moderately. Somewhat drought tolerant.
Yarrow Plant in full sun in well-drained soil. Yarrow prefers hot, dry conditions and will not tolerate wet soil.
Parasitic wasp laying eggs into a caterpillar

Parasitic Wasps
Parasitic wasps attack a variety of harmful insects. They do not sting humans. Their stingers have adapted to let the female wasps lay their eggs in the bodies of host insects. When the eggs hatch, they kill the pest insects from the inside out. Straight sci-fi junk. Parasitic wasps control beetles, moths, flies, and other pests.

Parasitic Wasp Attractors
Common name Planting and Care
Cosmos white sensation Plant in full sun in well-drained soil after danger of frost has passed. Water moderately.
Parsley Plant in sun or partial shade in well-drained, rich soil. Water moderately.
Zinnia Plant in full sun in soil that is amended with compost. Water moderately. Deadhead to prolong flowering.
Lavender globe lily Plant in full sun in well-drained soil. Water moderately.
Yarrow Plant in full sun in well-drained soil. Yarrow prefers hot, dry conditions and will not tolerate wet soil.
Praying Mantis

Praying Mantis
Praying mantises are a top predator in the garden, and one or more will patrol the length of a moderately-sized garden, wreaking havoc on any pests. These are a bit harder to attract unless there is already an endemic population in your area, so you may want to consider purchasing one or two mantis egg capsules online. Mantises require the presence of trees or shrubs. Good candidates are maples, pine trees, and any green, leafy shrubs that will attract insects for the mantis to hunt.

Starting Seeds with Compost, Vermiculite & Peat Moss

This weekend my little garden helper and I got the ball rolling on starting seeds for this season.

We fired up the grow lights after having them sit dormant for the Winter and they worked beautifully.

Grow Lights

After that, it was time to play with some dirt.

We loosely follow the Square Foot Gardening method and as part of that there’s a little soil mixture that’s pretty pervasive. It’s one part compost, vermiculite and peat moss, all mixed up into delicious planting goodness.

Mel's Mix Ingredients
Mel's Mix

Once you’ve got it all mixed up, you get a small child (preferably your own) with a Dora the Explorer garden trowel to spread it. They’re very good at it.

We’ve got a dozen or so seed trays with inserts that we use to start our seeds in. The trays and inserts from Greenhouse Megastore are the best-priced that I’ve found.

Seed Trays
Seed Trays

We got two full trays filled today and then my seed-tray-filler got hungry. You don’t mess with a hungry seed-tray-filler. Over the next week or so we’ll get the rest filled.

I’m waiting on new seed trays to come in before putting seeds in. Last year I accidentally ordered trays with holes in the bottom, which meant I had to do a heck of a lot more work to keep the soil in these damp. So, I’ve got some new trays with no holes so I can put water in their and keep the soil properly hydrated. They should be in this week.

Then after that we’ve got a lot of seeds to get started!

Garden Planning: Spring/Summer 2014

In the past couple of weeks we’ve been busy planning out our garden for Spring/Summer. We use Smart Gardener to help plan out the location of our plants as well as the schedule for planting everything! It makes the process a breeze and really low-stress.

We have seven 3×15′ raised beds which adds up to 315 sq/ft of planting space to fill up. It takes a matter of minutes to get it all laid out with Smart Gardener. It automatically lays out what should go where based on the sun, interactions with surrounding plants and crop rotation. So, highly recommended.

Here’s our plan for this Spring/Summer.

Garden Plan: Spring/Summer 2014


And here’s a full list of what we hope to have an abundance of. :)

  • Artichoke
  • Basil
  • Bean (Bush)
  • Bean (Red Kidney)
  • Bean (Heavyweight)
  • Beet
  • Brussel Sprouts
  • Cantaloupe
  • Carrot
  • Cauliflower
  • Chamomile
  • Chives
  • Corn
  • Cucumber
  • Eggplant
  • Honeydew
  • Lavender
  • Lemon Balm
  • Lettuce (Buttercrunch)
  • Lettuce (Salad Bowl)
  • Mint (Spearmint)
  • Mint (Peppermint)
  • Onion (Red)
  • Onion (White)
  • Oregano
  • Parsley
  • Pea
  • Pepper (Habanero)
  • Pepper (Orange)
  • Pepper (Yellow)
  • Pepper (Jalapeño)
  • Pumpkin
  • Rosemary
  • Sage
  • Scallion
  • Spinach
  • Squash (Butternut)
  • Squash (Summer)
  • Squash (Acorn)
  • Squash (Spaghetti)
  • Summer Savory
  • Sweet Potato
  • Thyme
  • Tomato (Cherry Chocolate)
  • Tomato (Cherry)
  • Tomato (Heritage Rainbow)
  • Tomato (Big Boy)
  • Watermelon (Sugar Baby)
  • Watermelon (Congo)
  • Zucchini

We had seeds left over from last year for about half of these and the rest we snagged from SeedsNow (their 99 cent sample packs may be the death of me).

Garden Journaling

In an attempt to post more (ie. at all) and to have a running log of everything we do with the garden, I plan on doing somewhat daily “journal” posts of what we do in the garden each day, even the small mundane things.

Most will probably be relatively boring on their own, but I think they’ll help us go back in hindsight to show us A) that we actually accomplished something in the garden and B) what we did right/wrong over each growing season.

Hopefully I’ll actually remember to post. :)

Beautiful Morning on the Farmstead

It’s a beautifully sunny and foggy morning here.

Our Garden Helper

Baxter - The Garden Helper

Yes, that’s dirt on the tip of Baxter’s nose. He likes to “help” in the garden.

8 Yards of Compost: Spread

Let’s be honest…shoveling dirt is a lot of work. A lot. A. Lot. I know from experience, although I’d rather not.

After getting our raised beds built, I realized I actually needed to put something in them. We’ve got a decent amount of compost in the works but it’s not ready and it’s nowhere close to being enough to fill all seven of our beds. So, I had eight yards of compost delivered from a local landscape materials company.

As you can see from the photo below…eight yards of compost is nothing to shake a stick at. Or a shovel. But a shovel is precisely what I needed to get that junk in to the beds.

Compost Pile

So it began. I made around 50 trips with the wheelbarrow from the pile to the beds and finally got it all finished yesterday. Relief.


Building Our Raised Beds

Last year we made our first foray into raised bed gardening. Our attempts directly in the ground had always failed (most likely because of the awful soil we have). But last year was a big success, so we’re sold on using raised beds.

I wasn’t very happy with the beds we built last year (1″ cedar just isn’t strong enough to hold in dirt without warping) and we wanted a much bigger garden this year anyways, so we pulled out the old beds and significantly expanded our growing space by building some new beds!

This past week I went to Home Depot and picked up the materials to build seven new raised beds using pressure-treated 2×8′s. I’m aware of the “pressure treated” controversy, but decided based on the research I’ve read, that it’s just not an issue.


At any rate, here’s the materials we used:

  • 17 – 16 foot 2×8″ pressure treated pine
  • 4 – 6 foot 4×4″ pressure treated pine
  • Box of 3.5″ screws

Each box was made of…

  • 2 – 15′ lengths of 2×8
  • 2 – 3′ lengths of 2×8
  • 4 – 10″ lengths of 4×4

I made the 4×4′s a couple of inches taller than the main boards to give me some room to work with our painfully un-level yard (which turns out was a GREAT idea on my part…high five, me!).

Then you just put the 4×4′s in the corners, put 3 screws on each side of each corner and BOOM! Raised bed. That weighs a metric ton (pressure treated wood is stupid heavy).


Then, we hauled the beds out in to the yard and got them leveled.

Using the skid-steer definitely saved us a ton of time and energy, but I still had to pickaxe for a couple of hours to get the beds how I wanted them.

Next up, we’ll truck in a few yards of top soil to fill in some dips in the yard, then it’ll be compost time! Whoohoo!

We now have about 315 sq/ft of planting space, compared to the 144 sq/ft we had last year.

How about you? Do you use raised beds?

Dream Come True: I Rented a Skid-Steer

This past Friday, I finally fulfilled one of my dreams: to run a heavy piece of machinery.

Skid Steer

We had an old tiered garden area built in to the side of a hill that needed to be regraded, and I wanted to smooth out our new larger gardening area as much as possible. Given the ground around here is all clay and rocks, doing it by shovel was a sure-fire way to make me gouge my eyes out. So, skid-steer to the rescue!

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