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Gardening with Laurie: Use trap crops to control pest insects

By By Laurie Garretson
Feb. 13, 2014 at midnight
Updated Feb. 12, 2014 at 8:13 p.m.


I think a big part of being an organic gardener means that we respect nature and try to mimic it. We are mindful that nature works with checks and balances. When we have a problem with some type of pest in our garden, we do not instantly grab some man-made insecticide that is guaranteed to wipe out every living insect that gets in its way - not to mention what it could do to all other forms of life.

Nature would never kill off all insects in an area just to eliminate a specific pest. That could only lead to other problems.

There can be - and usually is - some form of consequence for all human actions. This rule applies to all of life, including gardening. It's all about that checks and balances rule.

Over the past centuries, we humans have found many different ways of working with nature. One technique used by organic gardeners to help control pest insects is to use trap crops.

This practice uses an alternative host plant to lure pest insects away from the primary crop. This alternative to synthetic pesticides has been used in agricultural production crops as well as in home gardens with much success.

Traditionally, trap crops are planted within or around the perimeter of the primary crops. It is believed that early gardeners found certain pests preferred certain crops over others or were even repelled by them. Marigolds are a common trap crop used today against bad nematodes. Many years ago, some farmers used corn as a trap crop for their cotton crops.

The trick to any successful trap crop has to do with proper planting times. Trap crops need to be at the right stage of development that the specific pests likes, when the primary plants are just starting off.

This method assures that there is a more desirable plant available to the pests. Once the trap crop is infested with pest insects, they can be picked off and disposed of, or the infested plant can be removed and destroyed. Sequential plantings of trap crops help to prolong the protection they will provide for the primary plants.

Some of the commonly recommended trap crops used today are collards to attract moths from cabbage plants; dill to attract tomato horn worms from tomato plants; squash and pumpkins to attract cucumber beetles; lettuce and cabbage to attract slugs; Shasta daisies to attract tarnished bugs from strawberries; and sunflowers, field peas and millet to attract stink bugs and leaf footed bugs.

Until next time, let's try to garden with nature not against it and all our weeds will become wildflowers.

Laurie Garretson is a Victoria gardener and nursery owner. Send your gardening questions to laurie@vicad.com or in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77902.

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