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Pests in the Garden: How to fight them without Pesticides


While our gardens are full of bad insects that bite us and eat our plants, many of the bugs in our garden are not only helpful and beneficial but responsible for much of the food we eat. Many of our valuable pollinators are on the decline due to habitat loss and overuse of pesticides by both commercial farmers and home gardeners. Since pesticides cannot tell the difference between a good bug and a bad one, it is best to not use them at all. 


Yet, insects like aphids, Japanese beetles, and squash bugs can destroy a plant quickly. And fleas, ticks, and mosquitoes? In addition to those itchy bites, they carry diseases which can be fatal. What can we do? It depends on the insect really.


Here in our garden, we use a variety of different methods for insect control. We have chickens, ducks, and guineas that roam free-range throughout the day eating every bug they see. Since introducing chickens to our garden, we have seen a significant decrease in Japanese Beetle damage. Guineas love to eat ticks, I am told. And ducks just eat every bug within reach. Since I have read that geese eat snails, I am entertaining the thought of getting a goose for my garden. (Don't tell my husband.)



Aphids will usually be taken care of by Ladybugs, if you haven't killed them all with pesticides. If you don't have a good Ladybug population, you can order them online from Gardens Alive. Be sure to follow their instructions when you release them. Its really the Ladybug larva that devours the most aphids.



If you can't wait for the Ladybugs to do their job, use the safest insecticide you can, insecticidal soap. You can purchase it ready made or make your own (1 or 2 Tablespoons of pure liquid soap like Castile, not detergent, to 1 quart of water.) Spray on the undersides of leaves and only where you see aphids.

For Japanese Beetles, mix up a cup of soapy water and add a little vegetable oil. Take it outside and as you see a Japanese Beetle, knock it into the soapy water. The oil will prevent its being able to climb out. This is a good job for your little boy, if you have one.

For many plant pests like squash bugs and tomato hornworms, the best method of control is to simply pick them off by hand. Since I don't like to touch bugs and caterpillars, I use my pruners to knock them off. You can then mash them, or if you have chickens, knock the bug on the ground for them to fight over. It's been years since I've seen a grasshopper in the garden here. Our chickens used to fight over them. It was fun to watch.

For ticks and fleas, here is an excellent recipe for homemade repellent.





National Pollinator Week



National Pollinator Week is June 17 - 23, 2013. Additionally, by proclamation, Governor Nathan Deal declared this week as Pollinator Week in the state of Georgia. 

In celebration of Pollinator Week, places all over the country have planned events

Since I can find no formal events close enough for us to attend, we will have our own. This week will be spent in the garden making our environment more friendly and welcoming for the pollinators. 

Pollinators include bees, butterflies, birds, hummingbirds, moths, bats, beetles, and more. We depend on pollinators for much of the food we eat. You have probably heard of the decline of the honeybee due to disease, loss of habitat, and excessive or improper pesticide use. Many other pollinators have shown as much as a 90% decrease in their populations. We all need to do our part in helping to insure the preservation of all of our pollinators. To attract more pollinators into our garden, my children and I will be planting more flowers this week. 

One of the most important things you can do to help pollinators in your area is to plant native plants. Native pollinators need native plants. 

Another thing, do not use pesticides. Pesticides cannot distinguish between a good bug and a bad one. 

For more information and ideas on how you can help, please visit The Pollinator Partnership. There is even a downloadable guide for your specific zip code to help you in choosing plants for your pollinator garden.

Gardening with Bugs

If you are a gardener, you must learn to accept bugs. In the garden, there are good bugs and bad bugs.  Bad bugs, pests in the garden, are the topic for a later discussion. There are 3 types of beneficial insects you want in your garden: predators, parasitoids, and pollinators. 

Predators such as Lady Bugs, Lacewings, and Praying Mantis eat other bugs. Parasitoids like parasitic wasps lay their eggs on other bugs or insects so their young will have something to eat when they hatch. And of course you know pollinators like bees, butterflies, and moths pollinate flowers so we can have fruits and vegetables to eat.

As a gardener, you will understand the importance of attracting pollinators into the garden. Just like birds and butterflies, insects need 3 things for survival: food, water, and a place to lay eggs.

Very important - do not use pesticides. Pesticides don't know the difference between a good bug and a bad bug, and you do not want to kill off your pollinators.

Creating a garden for the bugs is very simple. Brightly colored flowers will attract all types of beneficial insects to your garden. Choose a spot in full sun near your vegetable garden or fruit trees and amend the soil with compost. You can purchase annuals like cosmos, zinnia, marigolds, and vinca from your garden center or grow your own plants from seed.  Sunflowers are available in both annual and perennial plants. Native plants work best. Variety is important. A wide range of colors and flower types will in turn attract a wide variety of beneficial insects. For a printable list of native plants suitable for your own planting zone, click here.

Alternatives to Leyland Cypress

Having been in the nursery business for many years now, we have received many requests for Leyland Cypress. Because of its fast growth rate and thick evergreen needles, Leyland Cypress is commonly planted close together in long rows as a privacy screen. It does make a good screen and very quickly too. However, most homeowners plant them way too close together. Because a mature Leyland Cypress Tree can be 12 to 20 feet wide, it is best to plant them at least 6 feet apart. I have seen local homeowners plant them 2 or 3 feet apart. The trees will grow quickly and just fine until they are wide enough to begin touching each other. Crowding leads to disease and ultimate death, resulting in a large brown dead tree right in the middle of the privacy screen. The University of Georgia has an excellent publication available for free detailing common Diseases of Leyland Cypress.


Rather than offer Leyland Cypress at our nursery and try to educate all on the proper planting techniques, I prefer to offer some more beautiful alternatives to the Leyland Cypress.

While it is true that Leyland Cypress offers excellent screening year round, why plant a tree that is simply evergreen, when you can plant an evergreen that offers additional benefits? Your options are limitless. You can choose from evergreens with berries, evergreens with showy blooms, evergreens with fragrant flowers, or even evergreens with edible fruit. But what I suggest to you is this: why choose at all? I recommend a mixed border. With my plan, you can have privacy, flowers, fragrance, and fruit all, by planting your property line with a variety of evergreen shrubs and trees.

Holly can't be beat for a privacy screen.
Just make sure you choose one that will grow large enough, as there are many dwarf, low-growing, or compact varieties available. Additionally, not all hollies are evergreen. American Holly is the traditional Christmas Holly with spiny leaves and bright red decorative berries. A native American tree, American Holly is a very dense evergreen tree growing up to 50 feet tall. Chinese Hollies grow large also, and the heavy fruit-set attracts all kinds of birds to the garden. I like Lusterleaf Holly, for its large leaves and voluptuous clusters of red berries. Nellie R. Stevens is a cross between Chinese and English Holly. This fast-growing large shrub will provide privacy in no time, while also displaying large red berries against dark green foliage.


Camellias are a favorite for Southern gardens.
Sasanqua Camellias can grow quite fast if soil is rich and water is readily available. Blooms can be had in many colors and if you plant several different varieties, you can have blooms from September all the way to March. Japanese Camellias provide additional bloom types and colors, and with them you can extend your blooms all the way in to April or possibly even early May. Japonica blooms also make a good flower for taking indoors.

Rosa mutabilis Shady Gardens Nursery
Some varieties of shrub roses can get shockingly large, making them another ideal blooming plant for privacy screenings. Roses are mostly evergreen here in Georgia and Alabama. Knockout Roses are available everywhere now, even at the grocery store. Contrary to what is on the growing tag, they will grow up to 10 feet tall here in just 1 year's time. Another shrub rose for privacy would be Mutabilis, an old China rose known as the Butterfly Rose. This rose grows very wide, so if you have a neighbor who wants you off her property, plant this one several feet from the property line. Rugosa Rose is one we haven't got around to planting, but it is on our wishlist. Very thorny, so it will provide a barrier to keep out unwanted individuals. In addition to beautiful fragrant flowers, you and wild birds will be able to enjoy large orange or red rose hips in the Fall.

One of my favorite shrubs of all is Tea Olive. Osmanthus fragrans is so well-loved here that we have planted 6 of them already. When in bloom, our whole garden smells like fresh apricots. Flowers are very inconspicuous, but fragrance is oh so sweet! Osmanthus fragrans blooms heavily in Fall and again in Spring, with sporadic bloom all in between so that you can have fragrance in your garden almost year round. Osmanthus fortunei, also known as False Holly, has prickly holly-like leaves and flowers just as fragrant but that come only in Fall. Osmanthus Orange Blossom has masses of tiny orange flowers that, yet again, are just as fragrant as Osmanthus fragrans.
Orange Blossom Tea Olive also blooms just once a year in Fall, but all 3 of these large growing shrubs provide year round privacy with their dense evergreen foliage that is not usually bothered by any pests or diseases.

Edible plants are gaining in popularity for home-gardeners, probably due to the high cost of produce with the additional threat of food borne illnesses and pesticide contamination on store bought fruits and vegetables. Fruit-bearing evergreens are perfect for a privacy screen. Blueberry shrubs can develop into a nice dense bush when planted in full sun and given plenty of water. While not completely evergreen, blueberries are mostly evergreen in warmer areas of Georgia and Alabama. If citrus is hardy in your climate, Meyer Lemon and Loquat are excellent as an ornamental privacy screen. Fragrant blooms in summer develop into tasty and attractive fruit in winter.

These are just a few of my favorites, but you might also consider Gardenia for fragrant blooms. Evergreen viburnums provide both fragrant blooms and often showy berries too. Loropetalum has deep purple foliage and bright pink blooms in several months out of the year. Actually, I could go on and on. So I will stop here. Go ahead and get started on your beautiful privacy screen and check back soon for some additional recommendations for plants you can add as you're ready.


This last photo is not my own, and the shrubs are not all evergreen. But isn't this a spectacular hedge? Actually, the only time this border would not provide a privacy screen is in the dead of winter. And who's sitting outside then anyway? Not me.

Eucalyptus Silver Dollar Tree in the Garden

Most of you know that Eucalyptus cinerea, also known as the Silver Dollar Gum Tree or Argyle Apple, is commonly used in floral arrangements. But you might not realize how easy it is to grow your own.


Eucalyptus has very fragrant but also beautiful blue-green foliage with a silvery cast. During cold weather, leaves often turn a rosey burgundy. Eucalyptus makes a great specimen plant, but also looks great massed in groups of 3 or more. Bark is cinnamon-colored and exfoliating, adding to the beauty of the tree.

Warm summer breezes send the fragrance of eucalyptus all over the garden.

Eucalyptus cinerea is an evergreen tree that will grow up to 60 feet tall fairly quickly. 

Eucalyptus cinerea
 Shady Gardens Nursery
This variety of Eucalyptus is hardy in USDA Zones 7 to 11, tolerating light frosts with no leaf damage. When temperatures dipped down into the teens here, our trees showed some damage but quickly rebounded. This species has been known to survive winter in Zone 6, where it will die to the ground and resprout if dead foliage is pruned away. Can also be grown indoors in a large container. Just prune it regularly to keep it the size you want.

Eucalyptus cinerea grows rapidly in an irregular form. Give it plenty of space, because the branching can grow quite wide horizontally--this tree can be up to 15 feet wide. A height of 50 or 60 feet can be expected.

Eucalyptus needs full sun and well-drained soil. Hot dry sun is not only preferred but enjoyed. 

When you plant, amend the soil with soil conditioner and sand to insure the soil is very well drained. Then water once, at planting time. Do not overwater. That's all there is to growing Eucalyptus in your very own garden.