Plant Protection without chemicals

By Andy McIndoe

It is possible to control some pests and weeds with traditional barrier methods avoiding the use of chemical methods. Some of these have been used in gardens for many years, however these principles are also employed in more modern plant protection methods. They are welcomed by organic gardeners and those wishing to avoid chemical use wherever possible. In many cases they can be more efficient than chemical methods of control and cheaper and easier in the long run too.

Companion planting in the vegetable garden is widely acknowledged as a method of repelling insects, attracting pollinators and in some cases enhancing the growth of crops. Marigolds, a natural source of pyrethrins are often planted to control aphids and other insect pests. They also look attractive and give the vegetable plot the look of a traditional cottage garden.

Nasturtiums sit happily in the vegetable garden. Their flowers and leaves are edible and even their seeds are often pickled as an alternative to true capers. The flowers are attractive to bees and pollinators and they are often a decoy: attracting insect pests to themselves and so protecting neighbouring crops.

Cabbage Collar

Cabbage collars are a traditional method of protecting newly planted brassicas from cabbage fly. The cabbage fly lays her eggs by the roots of newly planted cabbages, sprouts, cauliflowers or other brassica plants. The eggs hatch and the larvae burrow into the base of the stems and roots and eat them, weakening or killing the plants. By fitting a biodegradable Vitax cabbage collar around each plant at the time of planting this is prevented. The collar expands as the plant grows, but it maintains a snug fit. The adult cabbage fly cannot lay her eggs close enough to the young plant so she goes elsewhere.

Mulch mat around shrub

Mulch mats of various types are used around newly planted trees and shrubs where weeding after planting is impossible. Keeping the ground free from grass around a new tree or shrub prevents competition from weeds, these can rob the young plant of water and nutrients. If weed growth is strong enough it could simply smother the plant and cause failure.

Vitax mulch mats are completely biodegradable and can be used around newly planted shrubs to keep soil moist and suppress weed growth. They can also be used around strawberry plants and lettuces to protect the crop and act as a slug deterrent. They are really effective around strawberry plants to keep the fruits clean and free of botrytis.

Mulch Mat around strawberry

Vitax Slug gone could also be considered as a sort of mulch mat. This is a relatively new product from made from a by-product of wool processing called “shoddy”. This wool waste is processed into pellets. These can be sprinkled around the emerging shoots of perennials such as hostas, or around newly planted young plants with that succulent new growth that is so attractive to slugs and snails.

Slug Gone

Although Slug Gone doesn’t smell great, it is clean and fairly simple to handle. Usually just a handful is sufficient around a hosta in a pot. It is important not to use too much because it swells and expands when wet and can smother the plant you are trying to protect. Sprinkle on the compost or soil surface to make a ring around the plant a few centimetres away from the growing shoots.

Applying slug Gone

Slug gone swells when wet to form a mat. Slugs and snails avoid the mat because microscopic fibres in the wool irritate the foot of the mollusc. The wool also absorbs moisture from the pest, making it impossible for it to move across the barrier to get at the plant.

As it forms a mat around the base of the plant it can also be used around young cabbage and other brassica plants, instead of cabbage collars, to protect against cabbage root fly.

Slug gone on pot

Slug gone is suitable for organic gardeners. As a natural product it breaks down in the soil and releases nutrients into the soil water. It helps to conserve moisture when it forms a mat across the soil surface. It is particularly useful on the surface of compost in pots and containers.

However, remember that if you do use it around hostas in pots you need to make sure that the leaves are not touching neighbouring plants later in the season. If they are the slugs and snails can use them as a bridge and do damage anyway.

Vitax Mulch Mats

Vitax Copperslug Tape is an alternative traditional solution to slugs and snails for plants in pots. This is self adhesive so it is fixed around the pot to make a ring, usually just below the rim. When a slug or snail touches the tape the copper emits a tiny electrical charge and the slug turns away.

Check out the Vitax Gardenworld website for lots more information about plant protection products and for gardening advice and tips.

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Andy McIndoe

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