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Attracting predators to manage pests

 
Daron Williams
gardener
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Location: Olympia, WA - Zone 8a/b
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My favorite way to deal with garden pests is to attract predators. But this approach takes time and you have to be willing to give the predators space.

This week’s blog post—The Number 1 Pest Solution – Attract Predators to Your Garden—dives into how to manage pests through predators.

To be completely transparent I’m still dealing with pests on my wild homestead. But I can see that each year there are less pests in my garden.

So how do you attract predators? Here is a bit about what I’m doing to deal with my most common pests. But don’t forget to check out the blog post which dives into this topic in more detail.

How I’m Dealing with Pests by Attracting Predators



The biggest pests that I’m dealing with are slugs, voles, and aphids. And slugs by far are the worst.

In a lot of ways aphids are the easiest to deal with since there are so many things that eat them. And really what it takes to deal with them is to have nearby perennial growing areas (hedgerows, food forests, etc.) and lots of flowers.

All of this attracts and supports predators of aphids such as hoverflies, lacewings and ladybugs.

Creating log piles, using mulch and keeping things a little bit messy also provides shelter for these beneficial insects.

But these features also help attract other predators—especially those of slugs.

In my area that includes garter snakes, black ground beetles, frogs and centipedes. These 3 predators are great at helping to keep slugs under control here in western WA.

Rock piles also help and I’ve made sure to add some of those around my growing areas.

But I still need to do a lot more to deal with slugs. I need a lot more log and rock piles but what will make the biggest difference is building some small water features.

These small ponds won’t be for water storage but instead will be year-round water sources for garter snakes, frogs and salamanders. This will help attract them up to my garden which should help a lot with slugs.

But none of this will help that much with voles.

To deal with voles I’m going to install barn owl boxes. There are already owls living around my wild homestead but by installing barn owl boxes I can increase the number that can nest in my area which should reduce the number of voles.

Finally, I’m also planting native plants throughout my wild homestead. These plants support specialist (picky) insects that can only eat those plants. Those picky insects are eaten by songbirds and many other predators.

This increases the amount of prey available for predators without increasing the population of generalist insects that are often pests in the garden.

The result of using all these approaches together along with planting a diverse mix of plants is a healthy ecosystem that supports prey and the predators that eat them. This doesn’t eliminate pests but it does keep them in balance.

Moving Forward



I still got a lot more to do. I need to add more log piles and a lot more rock piles. I need to build the wildlife ponds and I need to plant more native plants.

I’m also planning to plant a lot more flowers and perennial food crops. And I’m still adding snags, and I’m just starting to add bird boxes (including barn owl boxes).

Overtime all of this will attract more and more predators and the result will be less pests.

I really find this approach to be the best way to deal with pests because it’s based on working with nature rather than against it.

And I would love to hear what predators you’re finding in your garden. Spiders? Centipedes? Lacewings? Ladybugs? Snakes? Lizards? Birds?

Please, leave a comment below sharing what predators you find in your garden and what you’re doing to attract them.

And don’t forget to check out the blog post to learn more about how to attract predators to your garden.

While you are over on the blog most make sure to leave a comment! If you are the first to do so you will get a piece of pie! The pie will get you access to some special features on perimes, discounts at some vendors, and you can use it to purchase some products on the permies digital marketplace.

If you leave a comment on the blog post make sure to leave a post here on permies too so I can easily give you the slice of pie.
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
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Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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Not a predator, but, if you live where it will grow (a warm to hot climate), Devil's Claws (Proboscidea species) can be a trap crop for Tomato Hornworms.  They are the only non-tomato plant that these caterpillars will live on.  Rather than destroying the beautiful caterpillars on my tomatoes, I move them to a nearby Devil's Claw.  This way I can later enjoy the fascinating Hawk Moths as they zoom around my flowers.



http://www.indefenseofplants.com/blog/2015/10/30/devils-claw
 
Marvin Weber
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Location: Nova Scotia, Canada
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No ducks, Daron? I haven't used ducks yet as slug control, but I hear they work well. Has anybody had good results? I've been on the fence about it because I know they are quite messy. Also, since we are in a regulated license system to raise pastured poultry in movable shelters, I'm not sure if our regulatory agency would allow free range ducks.

I like the tips to attract predators. Maybe I now have an excuse not to clean up those brush piles..
 
Lorinne Anderson
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Might be worth making a large-ish pond to attract, or house, ducks, for the slugs.

Pond might add mosquitoes as a pest so some swallow or bat boxes might be in order.

Song birds in general will pick and peck small bugs, as will possums;  skunks would likely go for bugs, slugs and possibly the voles.

A fox would solve the vole issue - assuming you do not have fowl.

Rather than just "attract wildlife" that will be beneficial, import them - offer rescued local wildlife (birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians) a new home! Call your local wildlife rehabber and see what they are looking for in release sites; or ask their advice on how to encourage your wild neighbors to be your pest control partners.
 
Michelle Heath
pollinator
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Location: WV
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Another great article Daron!

Years ago we built a rock garden by hauling in large stones from the edge of our field.  I situated a small preformed pond in between the rocks and over the years it has become the home and breeding area of toads.  I'm currently considering putting a larger preformed pond closer to our garden area for the same purpose.  

I'm not particularly fond of snakes, but I'm letting the garter snakes do their thing this year.  The same day I noticed flea beetles on my potatoes, I also noticed a ladybug on patrol.  The next few days I noticed more and more ladybugs and they seem to have the problem under control.
Staff note (Daron Williams) :

Thank you for the comment on the blog post! You were the first so pie for you!

 
Sionainn Cailís
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Location: 5b Ontario
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Slugs!! I actually like slugs and snails, always loved to pick them up and watch them slime across my hand as a child. Its still hard for me to dislike them, even if they are voracious consumers of my cabbages. I find them cute as far as bugs go, being a person that dislikes bugs the more legs and pincers they have lol. Slugs have nothing! Just soft little blooby bodies.

I am smack inside city, so no options for ponds, poultry, or barn owls. And we dont have snakes or lizards here.

My first year the snails bulldozed my gardens. It was relentless.

I began to notice that the songbirds started to favour my garden. Thrushes are particularly good at hunting down my gooey tenants. :)

I installed a beautiful bird bath, and a feeder I would occassionally fill with tasty seeds when the ground was still frozen, and paid close attention to making little pockets very suitable for various birds to find appealing. I had a family of robins move into the trees in the back garden, along with cardinals, finches, swallows, warblers, woodpeckers, and blue jays. The masses of slugs when we first moved in have been culled, resulting in plump feathery friends.

I also have a family of starlings this year, who have been very generously removing grubs from the front garden for me. We have june bugs this year, and they have been faithfully teaching their fledglings how to hunt up all the yummy fat bugs from the ground.

Grackles too. A lot of people complain about them being such loud mouths, but they've been my front garden residents for a couple years now and they eat a lot of bugs that would be a nuissance for me, so I dont mind they nest in my hedge. :) They are good at getting beetles and grubs. Actually, I really enjoy their company, they are such a bunch of jokers. Where the robins are friendly and cheeky, these guys are the really clever comedians. They also follow me around, and will  grak-grak-grak at me every morning to go wash out the bird bath. Haha.

Some of the smaller resident birdies are great at hoovering up the constant dandelion and thistle seeds blowing into the garden. I try to let lots of flowers and bushes I have go to seed so the bitty birds have tasty things to eat.  

They DO have a tendency to attack seedlings, in order to get at the yummy seed. I lost a lot of beets last spring, wondering who the hell was pulling them all out. Lol. Live and learn. I started to use bird netting over the just sown areas, until the seedlings were big enough. I also sometimes put bird seed into the feeder as a peace offering or distraction. I dont want to feed them all time, but it works pretty well as a short term deterrent until I can erect a barrier.
 
AngelinaGianna Maffeo
Posts: 74
Location: North Carolina
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Every time I buy lady bugs this happens... 1000 lady bugs released at dusk into my garden because the white flies have invaded.  3 am - a swarm of white flies are seen exiting my property screaming as the go. 7 am watering - not a white fly to be seen. Maybe 100 lady bugs can be seen on the plants. 8 pm - if I hunt for them I'll find maybe 4 or 5 lady bugs. They are gone never to return. One year this played out in my greenhouse in mid winter... the same thing happened. I have no idea where they go.

On the other hand the praying mantis, hatch every time,  stay all season and I see babies the following spring.
 
Daron Williams
gardener
Posts: 2167
Location: Olympia, WA - Zone 8a/b
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Hey all! Sorry for the delay in replying to everyone—got a bit busy over the last few days. But here are my replies!

-------------------------------------------------------------

Tyler – Great suggest and yeah trap plants and alternative plants are a great option! Really appreciate you sharing this!

Marvin – Ducks work great and one day I may get some. I do have the occasional wild duck that shows up. But this post was more focused on the predators that you don’t need to directly manage except for providing shelter and space for them to live.

But ducks can of course be used in a more targeted way to control slugs and snails in a specific growing area.

I like the idea of building up passive pest control by attracting predators. Then using additional positive methods like having ducks to deal with any lasting issues.

Lorinne – Ponds are a great thing for attracting wildlife and I have several seasonal ones and I will be building some permanent ones soon. Importing wildlife is an interesting idea and something I’m considering. In some ways attracting them is just a more passive way of doing that. The challenge is making sure to have enough habitat for them first so they can thrive when they arrive regardless of how they got there.

Michelle – Thank you! Great to hear about your rock pile and pond—really awesome that the toads like it. Building a pond up near the garden is a great option. I’m going to add a couple wildlife ponds near my house for this same reason.

Yeah, snakes aren’t always popular but garter snakes are harmless and are good for pest control. But it’s something to balance—keeping habitat for them away from trails and other areas you visit is a good option.

Great to hear that the ladybugs are dealing with your flea beetles!

Sionainn – Thank you for sharing your story! Yeah, birds are great predators and just the other day I watched one swoop down to my tree collards and fly away with a caterpillar in its beak.

But I’ve also had issues with them pulling up seedlings. The finches went after my lettuce this year! This is one reason I’m going to switch to starts for more of my vegetables. Not for all of them but for some—should help with the slugs too since the plants will be bigger.

Thanks again!

AngelinaGianna – Releasing ladybugs and other beneficial critters can be difficult. Easy to release but hard to keep them around. This is why attracting them can be a good option. Those that choose to show up will be more likely to stick around. Sounds like this is what the praying mantis are doing.
 
Jen Fulkerson
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I have lots of lizards running around.  I think a few live in a couple of my raised beds because everytime I check on them, the lizards run for cover.
I use to have lots of praying mantis, but I think my use of a systematic in my rose garden killed them out. I don't use systematic or any poison any more.  I think I'm going on three years now. Nature is starting to balance out now, but still no praying mantis.  I have thought about buying some eggs in the nursery, but then I think when the time is right they will return.  To be honest I love the benefit of this bug, but hate them personally. I'm not a big fan of bugs, and preying mantis will walk right up your arm, not my favorite thing.
We have an unusually high number of dragonflies this year.  I didn't do anything to attract them, but since they eat mosquitoes I'm thrilled to have them visit my yard, plus they are cool to watch.  So far they are doing a great job, not very many mosquitoes.
I have shallow dishes with stones that I try to keep water in, but it drys out so fast, I'm hit and miss with that.  When I have a broken pot I will put it in a shady spot.  I also had a half round tree bark. I put it in my flower garden. It looks great, and it's a good hiding spot for garden helpers.  I also plant a big variety of veggie and flowers.  I think that helps a lot.
My biggest problem, at least at the moment is gophers.  The only way I have had any success is to flood them out and kill them.  I really don't have the heart for this, so I ignore them, unless they mess with my veggie garden, or my rose garden, then I am forced to deal with them.  Luckily that isn't very often.  I don't like them in the yard, but as long as they stay out of my gardens we coexist.
Happy gardening to you. Jen
 
Amy Bird
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I appreciate all your wisdom. I came to gardening late and often feel I’ll never know enough to have a really great, healthy garden/wild areas. From this article, I am wondering about slugs and snails. They are everywhere and they do a lot of damage. But then, I read that frogs eat them. We have the most beautiful tree frog songs in mid summer and I feel like I should let the slugs be to feed the frogs later. What’s your thought on that?
 
roberta mccanse
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Location: Near Libby, MT
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Gophers are the Bain of my garden's existence. Because I am surrounded by Forest service land I will never be able to get rid of them. Any that I might manage to kill would instantly be replaced by adjacent neighbors. So I don't try to kill them.

The answer had been to put the garden out of reach. My raised beds, boxes on top of stacks of pallets are rimmed with sheet metal. Other gardens are bathtubs raised on cement blocks. And I plant tomatoes in stacks of tires wrapped in sheet metal. They do well in my hoop house that allows about ninety percent sun through and keeps most bugs out.

I would love to have snakes. I have a couple of rock piles and water dishes. I need to do more. And I will put up some owl houses this year. I know that we have owls. My girlfriend took a picture of a pigmy owl on the Ponderosa over the patio. When it was developed and enlarged we discovered a small song bird in one claw. Not the sort of thing that you share with sensitive grandchildren.
 
Peter Ellis
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We are in SW MI. Our site has a tremendous amphibian population, both tree frogs and toads. Toads I know eat slugs, tree frogs I don't know about as slug predators. We have enough toads that we have hognose snakes, a toad predator! We also have garter snakes and last year we added ducks and chickens. I allowed them to tear up our garden plot in late winter/early spring in the hopes that they would devastate the slug population while also reducing weed seed banks and fertilizing the garden for us. We shall see how well they addressed the slug issue as the garden develops. So far it looks promising.
In addition to garter snakes and hognose snakes, this year a blue racer which is definitely big enough to eat voles (about 4 feet long). We have multiple brush piles and I've used concrete overrun from pouring our house foundation to create some rockeries as reptile habitat.
In past years chipmunks have been a pretty serious garden pest, but I think the chickens have evicted our chipmunk population! Our site is twenty acres, the vast majority of which is wooded, so the two acres or so that I am actively working on isn't making a dent in overall populations on the site. We are also technically within a State Game Land, and we back up directly against a restricted access wildlife refuge area. Our "worst" garden pest may very well be deer, and with the wildlife refuge behind us, it's unlikely we'll ever be able to "control" that one. So I keep thinking I should get my hunting license and at least get back some of what they're taking from us, and it keeps not happening. One of these years... In the meantime, trying some fencing, primarily to keep the poultry out because boy, are They pests in the garden if they get in at the wrong time! Hopefully making it inconvenient for the deer to get into the garden will discourage them enough and they'll settle for all the food out there on their side of the fence!
 
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