It’s time for those of us in the northeast to begin the sad process of tearing down our gardens, and I thought I would take a moment to pass on a few pest prevention tips that are commonly overlooked.
Tip no. 1: A caterpillar covered with eggs is an asset. Place it and its cargo somewhere where it will not be injured and allow it to live. These eggs belong to parasitic wasps. The young will hatch and feed upon the caterpillar. When they mature, these youngsters will find a caterpillar host for their own eggs. (Natural pest control)
Tip no. 2: If while cleaning your garden you encounter a wolf spider with young, don’t disturb her. This head of cabbage should have been picked long ago, but the female wolf spider and her brood of hundreds are far more valuable than the cabbage they call home. If you take a close look (Not too close, these monsters bite) the pattern on her back is actually a living cloak of baby spiders that cling to their mother for safety. Mother spider and her children will find a safe place to burrow into for the winter, and wake again next spring to protect your garden from destructive pests.
Tip no. 3: The nursery web spider is a gardener’s friend. These elegant predators can grow to amazing sizes, even in the northern states. This beauty, that decided to rear her young on my son’s car, measures sixty millimeters (2 5/8 inches), and she is not fully grown. The female of this species carries her eggs with her in a cocoon-like sack until they are almost ready to hatch. She then builds a web, on a branch, or in our case under the edge of a fender, opens the cocoon, and stands guard in anticipation of her brood’s arrival. Nursery web spiders don’t panic easily, making gardening in close proximity less nerve racking. (Caution: the nursery web spider will administer a painful bite if trapped or cornered.)
Tip no. 4: Don’t kill the ladybugs, even if there are a thousand of them holding a rally on your aluminum siding. Their cute red and black bodies disguise their predatory nature. Ladybugs devour the smaller insects that destroy our vegetables and flowers.
Tip no. 5: Yellow and black garden spiders are not only a beautiful addition to the garden, but they also have voracious appetites. Just don’t expect one to eat a Japanese beetle. Yuck! (Yes, these ones will bite as well. Been there, done that, and it doesn’t feel good!)
Tip no. 6: A full-grown praying mantis is the ultimate six-legged predator in northern gardens. She is not only an exceptional hunter, but her graceful movements and her gentle nature around humans also make her an excellent garden companion. Caution: a praying mantis is not above making a snack out of a humming bird. Hang your humming bird feeder far away from plants and trees that the mantis can use as camouflage.
Tip no. 8: Don’t kill that little snake unless he’s poisonous. A small garter snake is a great addition to any garden.
So as you clear your garden of dying plants and mulch it down for the winter, be sure not to destroy the little things that help to keep your garden pest free.