Bucks County Herald

Elizabeth Ludlow Bowman: Tips for the Compleat Gardener


A wet spring tends to encourage bugs to proliferate, mosquitoes to rise from all those inadvertent puddles, rain-filled buckets and camp chairs.

Gnats swarm to herald rain and ticks leap at us from tall grass but in their midst a universe of pollinators, bees of all kinds and butterflies, carry on making our food grow.

I have received three postcards from a company offering to kill off the ticks and mosquitoes in my area, I called to ask what kind of poison they would use that would only kill ticks and mosquitoes.

I was told the scientists of the company would call me back and that was weeks ago. Nothing you choose to spray on your property has a singular, limited effect, the largest percentage of insects are in our lives performing their necessary deeds to keep the earth balanced and poison kills them too.

There are many plants the gardener can use in the environment that naturally repel the very insects we find annoying while encouraging the pollinators. The essential oil found in the plant tissues becomes more volatile as the temperature rises releasing particles into the air. The citronella candles often in use at outdoor evening events are made with the essential oils from lemon scented plants: Lemon balm, lemon grass and lemon thyme.

Lemon balm is easy to grow in any garden and I have used it in a yogurt and lemon balm dressing, lemon grass has several culinary uses and if you plant creeping lemon thyme in the cracks of your walkways the scent will waft from below as you pass and scent your pant legs which will discourage those denizens of the evening seeking blood.

Lantana, lavender, marigold, mint and rosemary will repel mosquitoes and lavender is repellent to fleas, flies and moths as well. These can all be planted around the house as natural pest repellent that will leave us the butterflies.

All the plants in the allium family (onions, chives, garlic, leeks, several perennial varieties) repel the pests of tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, cabbage, broccoli and carrots as do dill, nasturtiums and petunias interplanted with those vegetables and you can eat several kinds of allium while decorating the salad with nasturtium blossoms (they taste very peppery).

Chysanthemums are masters of the repellent business chasing away, ants, bed bugs, fleas, harlequin bugs, Japanese beetles, lice, spider mites and ticks. There is an ingredient of the plant, pyrethrum, that is toxic and often found in over the counter pesticides. The annual four o’clocks also work against Japanese beetles by luring them in and poisoning them. Nature tends to use her own pesticides that do not wipe out the innocent. We need to learn to stay out of the way.

A fellow gardener told me about a new way to repel deer and other herbivores that is called the Predator. It is a solar-powered light that turns on at night that resembles the eyes of a predator. It blinks on and off, scares the deer. I am going to try one and will let you know.

Other than plants there are many beings in nature that eat the insects one might poison; bats, birds, spiders, other bugs it is all a cycle of life and if the gardener encourages balance no “pest” will be overwhelming. Nature is amazing when allowed to take care of herself.

Have you noticed that an arrival of many aphids is quickly followed by ladybugs. I once noticed a clump of worms biting into a mugo pine and sneaking up on them was a praying mantis smacking her lips.

Do not let fear the poison in your world.



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