Caterpillars devouring leaves in the vegetable patch.  Aphids sucking the life out of citrus trees. Garden pests can easily prompt a mad dash for some kind of spray. Surely there must be something in the supermarket or hardware store that’ll conquer these creatures?

Dennis Collins: Photo by Lyra Villafana

Dennis Collins: Photo by Lyra Villafana

“The word ‘pest’ is thrown around a lot,” observes Dennis Collins, ranger at Ku-ring-gai Wildflower Garden. But, he says, you don’t need to take a “take no prisoners” approach. Spraying with broad-spectrum pesticides can harm more than just the insects and spiders in your garden and home – it can also affect the birds, mammals, reptiles and frogs in your neighbourhood.  

Collins runs the Wildflower Garden’s educational programs aimed at promoting conservation and biodiversity through better awareness of the Australian bush. His experience and training means he is also an expert on insects and some of his most fascinating talks are about our home-grown insects.

According to Collins, fewer than 350 species out of 10 or 20 million insects require control measures, and there are ways of getting around them without using chemical sprays.  

Identifying problems early can help: Photo by Lyra Villafana

Identifying problems early can help: Photo by Lyra Villafana

The how to of pest control and benefitting bugs

GROW A WIDE VARIETY OF PLANTS IN YOUR GARDEN. “A healthy and diverse environment is the solution to the problem of ‘pest’ insects,” says Collins. If you’re growing a vegetable garden, investigate companion planting.

ALLOW PREDATORY INSECTS. Beneficial insects prey on pests and attract larger predators into the garden.  Encourage predatory insects such as wasps, preying mantises, and some ants and spiders. Birds, reptiles, frogs and native marsupials, such as bandicoots, are particularly attracted to a healthy and diverse garden.

IDENTIFY PROBLEMS EARLY. Be observant in your garden. The sooner you catch a pest infestation, the easier it will be to control it.

TARGET THE SPECIFIC PEST THAT’S CAUSING PROBLEMS, NOT THE ENTIRE INSECT POPULATION. Using chemical insecticides are only partially successful and are generally counter-productive as they tend to seriously deplete all insects.

USE PHYSICAL METHODS TOP REMOVE DESTRUCTIVE INSECTS. The most common and effective method is to educate yourself about the specific pest and, if possible, remove the unwanted insects by hand.

USE ORGANIC PEST CONTROL.  Depending on the species, there are several organic methods of controlling garden pests. Physical barriers, such as netting, can keep away cabbage white butterflies. Low-impact homemade sprays can be effective too.