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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Controlling Critters, Insects and Other Backyard Garden Pests

Want to have the best, pest-free garden in the Capital Region? Here's how.

Every gardener has problems dealing with pests in one form or another. There are deer, chipmunks, rabbits, woodchucks and voles that can all create havoc in the garden. There are diseases like the late season blight we suffered with last year that killed all your tomatoes. And don’t forget the slugs, larva and Japanese beetles that take their toll, too. Luckily, there are some good ways to prevent or at least blunt the destruction caused by these pests.


Deer are everywhere. I see them in my backyard all the time. There are more deer in the US now, than when the colonists first arrived in the 1600’s. The best prevention for deer are dogs, eight foot high fencing, electric fencing, hunting where legal, deer-resistant plants, repellent sprays made from egg solids, ammonium soaps and blood.

Deer are afraid of dogs. Big dogs, little dogs, it doesn’t matter. The deer in my backyard run away when they see my pint-sized French Bulldog Jacques. The best solution is installing an invisible fence and then letting your dog roam at will in your yard as often as possible. Deer will figure this out pretty quickly, and leave your yard off their rounds of destruction.

Growing deer-resistant plants is another good solution. It might limit your planting palette. I don’t know of any vegetables they won’t eat, but they don’t eat any herbs that I have ever grown. “Deer Proof Gardens,” and Mohonk Mountain House Plant recommendations for Deer Infested Gardens are two very good resources for deer resistant plant selections.


Best prevention for bunny damage include dogs, destroy their habitat, which means clean up any brush or wood piles in the yard, install two foot high chicken wire fence buried six inches underground, hunting where legal, repellent sprays and traps by DEC guidelines.


Best prevention for these bad boys include dogs, hunting where legal, four foot high chicken wire fence buried 12 inches underground, electric fence. There are no EPA approved repellents for woodchucks.

Plant pesticides

Best way to prevent diseases on plants is growing disease-resistant varieties. An excellent source for disease resistant plants is the Resource Guide for Organic Insect and Disease Management from the New York State Agriculture Experiment Station.

Sprays and powders you can use include: 

Bt Bacillus thuringiensis – a naturally occurring bacteria in spray or powder form used to control caterpillars and larva on plants,

Neem – plant derived botanical pesticide in spray form to kill larva and insects,

Insecticidal soaps – potassium salts of fatty acids used to kill soft bodied insects like mites and

Horticultural oils – petroleum or vegetable-based oils used to smother insects and diseases,

Bicarbonate – potassium and sodium fungicide used to control powdery mildew. Mix one ounce of baking soda with one gallon of water to control powdery mildew on roses and

Copper – mineral fungicide used to control diseases on plants.

In most cases, these products are available at any better lawn and garden center. If not, you can surely buy them from Gardener’s Supply www.gardeners.com . Be sure to read the manufacturer’s instructions on the label to protect you and your pets. These are all safe to use, just be smart.

Crop rotation

Crop rotation is another good way to prevent diseases in your vegetable garden. Don’t plant tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant and green beans in the same place very year. Rotate them around to different parts of the vegetable garden. One year, plant tomatoes in a certain spot, next year, plant lettuce. Follow that with peppers before you go back to tomatoes in that section.

Unfortunately, heirloom tomatoes are not diseases resistant varieties of tomatoes. They might taste great, and look funky and cool, but they do not resist the common tomato diseases very well.

Breeders have discovered this, and I have started to see disease-resistant varieties of heirloom tomatoes on the market, so look for that when you shop.

Organic soil and fertilizer

Building an organically rich soil and using organic fertilizers is a great help to your plants as they withstand the pressure of insects and disease. Healthy plants are better able to survive minimal infestation.

Be sure to add compost to your garden soil annually. Dig it into a depth of four inches before you plant. Spread more organic mulch or compost in the flower, herb and vegetable garden, but don’t be afraid to use straw in the vegetable garden. You can buy shredded straw now, and if your vegetable garden is not too large, it’s a good economical choice. The compost, mulch or straw will all decompose and further enrich the soil.

Larry Sombke
Larry Sombke
Larry Sombke is the co-owner of Larry's Foods LLC, maker of Larry's All Natural Mexican cooking sauces.

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