Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Pacific Northwest
May, 2006
Regional Report

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Nasturtiums are irresistible to aphids and serve as great trap crops for them.

Dealing With Bugs

In the world of pest control there are many non-spraying ways to keep pests at bay. One I've experimented with is growing trap crops. Trap crops are plants that certain pests really like. When you plant them in the garden, all the pests go to the trap crop (where you can control them more efficiently), while leaving your other plants alone.

Using Trap Crops
There's some controversy surrounding the use of trap crops. Some plants really do attract pesky aphids and beetles, but the question is, do they attract pests away from other plants in your garden, or do they attract pests to your garden from some distant garden? I'd hate to think I was attracting a population of Mexican bean beetles from a neighboring garden with my bed of marigolds.

Nasturtiums as a Trap Crop
Nasturtiums attract aphids by the score. I've always planted them as a sacrificial crop, pinching off and destroying stems as they become infested. If aphids are a problem in your garden, try my nasturtium trap crop method. Or plant a few sunflowers here and there. Unlike the nasturtiums, whose infested leaves should be pinched off, sunflowers can just be left alone to grow. They are so tough that they tolerate the damage and still produce nice seedheads for our local birds to enjoy.

Buckwheat for Deer Control
If you're plagued with deer like I am, consider planting buckwheat as a trap crop for Bambi and friends. A neighbor tells me that deer go straight for the stands of buckwheat in her garden, leaving her perennial flowers alone. It's worth a try.

Buckwheat also has a number of other worthy attributes. It's an excellent summer cover crop, growing dense enough to crowd out weeds, it attracts droves of bees, and it has a shallow root system, making it easy to till into the soil at the end of the season. It does, however, take over a garden if allowed to set seed. The trick to growing buckwheat is to allow it to flower long enough for the bees to collect pollen, and then cut it down before it sets seed. I'll let you know how useful it proves for deer control.

Repelling Rather Than Trapping
On the other side of the coin are plants that repel. Certain pests dislike certain plants, and you can use this to your advantage by strategically planting your garden.

Try some of these combinations as garden companions: Plant chives at the base of roses to repel aphids; garlic at the base of peach trees to repel borers; basil planted among tomatoes to repel tomato hornworms; nasturtiums grown near squash to repel squash bugs; tomatoes planted among asparagus to repel asparagus beetles; and marigolds, mint, thyme, or chamomile to repel cabbage moths.

Radishes make excellent trap crops for cucumber beetles among squash and cucumbers. Radishes also attract flea beetles when planted near cole crops. Garden borders planted with low-growing thyme or lavender can deter slugs. Tansy and pennyroyal repel ants.

I think these plant combinations are worth trying. If nothing else, you'll have a colorful garden with lots of things in bloom throughout the season -- a perfect combination for attracting beneficial insects that feed on the pests.

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