No garden is free of pests and disease. Fungal infections, caterpillars, beetles, dogs, deer -- the list of potential problems is seemingly endless. Fortunately, you can fight back against these predators without risking your health or spending a fortune. In many cases, simply by changing the way you garden, you can head off problems before they arise.
The tips below can be used together to form a protective barrier against the most common crises that arise in both vegetable and flower gardens. Many problems can be attacked on several fronts, so if one solution fails in your garden, try another. Above all, stay vigilant; it is much easier to protect your garden if you act before, or at, the earliest signs of trouble.
Many predators can be controlled by blocking their access to your garden. The most common system is a simple fence, sized to repel the expected invader.
Fences. Dogs and rabbits may be deterred by a low fence securely attached at ground level or, even better, buried several inches into the ground. Larger pests -- notably deer -- may require much taller fencing which, unfortunately, can be prohibitively expensive or unsightly. Many plants are susceptible to attack only when young and tender. Consider surrounding these plants with individual collars of fencing.
Row covers. These lightweight sheets of fabric cover plants without smothering them, and allow light to pass through. Commonly used in commercial nurseries to protect tender plants from light frosts, row covers can also provide a measure of protection to vegetable crops from insects, caterpillars, birds, and lazy rabbits and squirrels. Row covers are most useful when transplants are young; remove them as the plants' stems harden.
Cloches. Sometimes you need to protect just one plant or a row of plants. A cloche is a temporary cover sized and shaped to fit a particular situation. For single plants, you can cut the bottom off a gallon plastic milk jug and set it over the plant. Small plants can be covered with paper cones secured to the ground with landscape pins. And row crops can be protected by tunnels created with wire hoops and row-cover fabric. The primary danger with cloches is heat buildup on sunny days. Remove or vent the cloches before they can overheat and fry your plants.
Cutworm collars. Cutworms are night-crawling pests that chew through plant stems at ground level; they are particularly fond of young transplants of broccoli, cauliflower, and their relatives. Foil cutworms by forming 2- to 3-inch-diameter collars out of large index cards. Slip a collar over each transplant and push the collar an inch or so into the soil.
Netting. Sold as bird netting, this lightweight mesh is perfect for protecting berries and tree fruit from winged marauders.
Chemical barriers. Some gardeners use animal scent products, like fox urine or dried blood, to deter pesky animals. The jury is still out on the effectiveness of these products, but they might be worth a try. Just remember that you may have reapply these products frequently, especially in rainy climates.
Continued on page 2: Disease Fighters