Close this search box.

Braving the bugs to benefit green spaces

By Katie Lautar & Molly McCullagh

Baltimore Green Space is excited to announce the launch of our Garden Stewardship program! The goal of the Garden Stewardship program is to provide even more support for the garden leaders at our ten preserved sites, especially by offering educational workshops.

So far, our garden stewards have asked for workshops that will teach them when to prune their fruit trees and bushes, how to engage youth in their gardens and parks, and what to do about all those garden pests! Whenever possible, we work to connect scientists and experts in our existing network with our gardeners and forest stewards. Luckily, we’ve got friends in the right places and our colleagues at the Cylburn Arboretum Association recommended their on-call expert, George Mozal. George is a devoted expert in the field with decades of experience including advising care at Ladew Gardens and the Cylburn Arboretum. George’s enthusiasm is contagious, and we were inspired by his quest to continually learn new things about forest and plant care.

George’s talk started with the pests we see most frequently, many of which are very familiar to Baltimore gardeners: thrips, aphids (below, left), Mexican bean beetles (below, right), and mites. He shared tips for battling all of these, including some very manageable solutions that can be created with household items. Thrips, for example, can be managed with a cinnamon spray.

Companion planting (planting different plants to protect each other from pests) can go a long way in keeping pests away. Basil, rosemary, dill, fennel, marigolds, and short toothed mint all help ward off bugs and can be planted among your veggies or flowers. But be careful – while both dill and fennel draw beneficial insects and repel aphids, they shouldn’t be planted together. A simple change like rotating your crops to different beds can help reduce the pest pressure the next year – bugs that laid eggs in the soil won’t be able to find their preferred plant if you’ve moved it to another spot.

In addition to providing us all with tools to combat bugs that adversely affect our gardens, George advised folks to look closely to see what beneficial insects you have around. We reviewed the most important beneficial insects to the garden including some with really fun names like soldier beetles and pirate bugs! They sound like they could be dangerous but they’re actually great for your garden. Many beneficial insects look different at the various stages of their life cycles, so it’s important to know the distinct phases of their life cycles to assess if you have enough beneficial bugs in your garden to eat up the troublesome pests. Ladybugs (below, left) for example look like total monster bugs just before their adult stage (below, right). If you don’t know what they look like you could easily mistake them for an actual pest, like Mexican bean beetles, which are also in the same family but are yellow with black spots and eat leaves, not insects.

George reminded us to view our gardens as a community of plants and bugs working together. Remember to consider how any pest treatment might affect your garden as a whole. Some organic sprays that could be useful are neem oil, cedar oil, and Botanigard ES. However, George recommends using sprays sparingly – even organic ones – because they often cause collateral damage to the beneficial bugs in your garden. When deciding what organic chemical resources to use look for the OMRI (Organic Materials Review Institute) label.

George’s pest prevention tips go beyond what we could share here, so keep an eye out for our more comprehensive publication that will provide detailed descriptions of all the bugs, chemicals, companion plants, and overall guidelines to keep your garden healthy and pest-free!

Special thanks to St. Francis Center for hosting us at their space and helping us grow the knowledge for our gardens.