The Number 1 Pest Solution – Attract Predators to Your Garden
Does your garden have pest issues? While no one likes to see their vegetables getting eaten by pests, those pests may not really be the problem. The core problem is a lack of predators. Perhaps it’s time to shift your focus away from the pests and start attracting the predators that eat them. You can grow more food, and save yourself time, energy and frustration by attracting predators to your garden.
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Do you ever feel like you’re stuck in a never-ending battle with garden pests?
That’s a common gardening struggle. But the only way off that treadmill is to take a step back and enlist some help.
I’m talking about calling in the beneficial critters that eat those pests.
Instead of spending all your time fighting pests, it’s time to attract predators to your garden.
It can seem scary to shift your focus to predators when there are pests going after your vegetables right now.
And in the short run, you may need to use other methods to deal with your pests. I go on “slug patrols” at night and on wet days to check for slugs on some of my more vulnerable plants.
But I don’t want to have to do this forever.
I would rather have a balance between pests and the predators that eat them.
So while I may deal with the pests in the short run, I’m also doing what I can to create the environment that the predators need to come and do the pest control job for me.
You should do the same for your garden.
Just remember that when you’re dealing with pests, don’t use toxic chemicals—not even the organic ones. These will often kill the predators right along with the pests. The result will be a never-ending battle between you and the pests.
Luckily there is a better way. So let’s dive into it and get started!
And to help you out, we’ve made a simple guide to the 9 types of predators (birds, snakes, lizards, etc.) that you can attract in urban or rural environments. The guide covers what you can do to attract each type of predator and what pests they eat. So before you scroll on down, make sure to grab your free predator guide.
Limits to Controlling Pests by Attracting Predators
Attracting and supporting local predators is my go-to method of pest control. But sometimes there just aren’t enough predators.
This problem tends to come up with larger garden pests like deer. Unless you have hundreds of acres, you won’t be able to create the habitat that large predators need.
And in much of the United States and elsewhere, the predators just aren’t around anymore.
In these cases, it’s not a shortage of predators but the complete absence of them that is the issue. It has gotten to the point that, in the case of deer, I struggle to call them wild.
Most of the time, you can attract predators for smaller pests. Anything the size of a rabbit or smaller has a predator that you can likely attract.
Though this will be more of a struggle in urban environments.
In these cases, you may need to exclude the pest from your garden—or even your property.
I have a deer fence around my 2.86-acre property to keep deer out. But I leave tunnels under it for other wildlife to come and go.
But for smaller pests such as insects (and potentially for pests up to the size of rabbits) you will be able to attract predators to your garden or property.
The easiest pests to deal with by attracting predators to your garden are insects and other invertebrates (like slugs and snails). Luckily, these are also some of the most common pests you will deal with in your garden.
How to Attract Predators for Insects and Other Invertebrates
Insects and other invertebrates, likes slugs, can really be a pain to deal with in your garden. I know in my own garden, these are the main pests that I have to deal with.
Slugs are by far the worst, but I also have some issues with aphids.
Though I’ve noticed that I’m having less problems with these pests over time. The reason is that I’ve focused on attracting predators to my property.
Make sure you take time to observe your garden. This will help you figure out which pests you’re having issues with, which will guide your future decisions on how best to deal with them.
Wild predators like garter snakes, birds, ground beetles, frogs, etc. All of these are great predators—not just of slugs, but of other common garden pests.
Your task is to convince these wild predators to show up and take up residence on your property.
There are many ways to attract these predators. But the key is to create a diversity of habitat, and to stop thinking of your garden as separate from the land around it.
Here are 7 ways you can create habitat to attract predators to your garden.
7 Ways to Attract Predators to Your Garden
Here are 7 ways to attract predators to your garden.
Hedgerows, log/rock piles, wildlife ponds, mulch, and perches or trees all provide shelter for predators. Flowers and native plants provide both shelter and food—some predators, like lacewings and hoverflies, are only predatory in their larval form and are later pollinators.
Check out the links for more info about these methods.
No one method is going to solve your pest problems. You can’t just toss a few logs down, plant a handful of flowers and walk away.
But the more you do, the better results you will see.
If you use as many of these methods as possible, and mix them in throughout your property, you will see more predators.
It takes time. But if you provide shelter and food them, they will come.
Lack of Predators for Rabbits, Voles and Other Similar Animals
The larger the pest, the more difficult it will be to attract their predators. Attracting insects won’t really help with pests like voles and rabbits.
But there is still a lot you can do.
Attracting snakes can be a great option for dealing with rodents. While snakes get a bad rap, they really are great predators and can help you deal with your pests.
If you live in an area with dangerous snakes, try keeping any habitat features away from your trails, paths, and other areas you or your family go. By placing the habitat features in areas you don’t go (behind a large shrub) you can provide a place for these critters while minimizing the risk to you or your family.
But often what you will need to do is provide space for predators like coyotes and weasels.
Unfortunately, these predators are often considered pests themselves because they sometimes attack our animals—especially smaller ones like chickens.
Electric netting and other systems can be set up to keep your animals safe while still letting these predators have access to other parts of your property.
Finding a balance that works for you and your animals will be key. This will be different for each person.
But if you can make space for these predators, they can, in turn help you deal with garden pests.
Voles are another common pest that I have to deal with. But I often see coyotes in my fields hunting them. My kids are awe-struck watching the coyotes jumping and pouncing.
This cycle of predators and prey is part of nature and something I want my kids to be comfortable with.
Because of this, I made sure that when I installed my deer fence, I left gaps that the coyotes could use.
There’s one last group of predators that can help, and that you may be more comfortable with. That is birds of prey—especially owls and hawks.
You can attract predators like birds of prey to your property by planting tall trees they can use as perches and by installing nest boxes for them.
Barn owls (check out the video at the start of this section) are an especially good option, since their nest boxes are easy to install and can be placed on posts just 8-12 feet (2.4-3.7 meters) off the ground. Voles and pocket gophers are ideal prey for barn owls but they will also eat other small animals.
Red tail hawks have caught rabbits on our property, and I often see them hunting over our fields. I also hear owls most nights, and I’ve seen barn owls flying quietly while I’m out taking nighttime walks.
To attract hawks, I’ve planted large trees to serve as perches and nesting spots. (Of course, this is a long-term solution.) I've also seen hawks hunting from snags (dead standing wood) that I've placed on the property. And I’ve installed a nest box for barn owls.
Check which birds of prey you have in your area, and then see what you can do to attract them. It may be as simple as putting up a nesting box.
By providing space for these animals, you can attract predators to your garden and reduce your population of voles, rabbits and other similar pests.
A lack of predators like coyotes, weasels, owls, hawks and other similar ones is often the biggest reason for issues with pests like voles and rabbits.
Changing How You Think About Pests – Prey Not Pests
What all this comes down to is a change in how you think about your pests.
All pests are prey to something. If you don’t attract predators, you will end up with an over-abundance of their prey.
These tend to be your garden pests.
Your garden is an abundant place filled with food that provides what these pests need to thrive. If there is a lack of predators, then the only thing that will limit the pest numbers is the amount of available food.
And you, the gardener. In this situation, you have to take on the role of the predator or exclude the pests from your garden.
But it’s often very difficult to keep all the pests out. Good luck keeping aphids out of a garden!
When you start thinking of your garden pests as prey, then that can lead you to become more familiar with their predators. Once you know which predators prey on your common garden pests, then you can start creating the habitat and space they need to thrive.
And when you attract predators to your garden, the number of pests you have to deal with will drop over time. But you will still have some pests. You have to, or else the predators that eat them wouldn’t want to hang around.
You can’t eliminate all the pests, or there would be nothing for the predators to eat. But you can strike a balance, where the amount of damage to your vegetables and fruits is low enough that it won’t cause you any problems.
By taking this approach and attracting predators to your garden, you can stop fighting the pests and focus instead on cultivating abundance for people, plants and wildlife, to make the living world around you come alive.
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