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Bugs Series: How to Deal With Bugs On Your Plants

Bugs are part of the natural ecosystem. They play an important role in creating healthy environments, and even healthy gardens. Some bugs are simply beneficial – like ladybugs, earthworms, bees, and even centipedes – causing no harm to your plants, but instead creating nutrients, eating harmful bugs, and pollinating flowers. Other bugs can cause plant damage and stress in the process of ‘doing their part,’ and we refer to these as ‘harmful bugs.’ But even these bugs play a role in the environment by eating decaying matter, recycling nutrients, or providing food for other insects and animals.

Plants and bugs have lived together forever, and they strike a delicate balance together. Bugs are necessary for many processes that leave behind readily available nutrients for our plants, and plants provide food and shelter for many of those bugs.

Natural Bug Defense

Most healthy plants will even emit their own ‘bug defense’ in the form of deterrent or toxic substances to harmful insects. Mother Nature has her own way of ‘keeping the peace,’ and this helps to keep plants and bugs in a healthy balance with one another. But this also means that struggling or nutrient-deficient plants become the most vulnerable targets for bugs, since their energy is primarily focused on performing critical processes and staying alive, leaving less resources for luxuries like ‘bug defense.’ The most effective way you can ward off bug infestations as a gardener or plant parent, is to keep your plants healthy through appropriate watering, fertilization and the use of organic additives. 

When Bugs Become a Problem

When the ecosystem is out of balance, the results can be anything from a major infestation (too many bugs), to completely, nutrient-deficient soil (no bugs). So don’t panic if you see a few ‘harmful bugs’ on your plants, or even a little bit of ‘bug damage.’ It’s to be expected! But when we face harmful infestations, or frustrating insect-nuisances in our gardens, it may be time to help restore the balance.

There are 3 ways to deal with bugs:

  1. Proactively. Here are some things you can do before bugs become a problem:
    • Keeping a healthy environment for your plant(s), where they have everything they need to be healthy and happy.
    • Plant bug-deterring companion plants nearby like marigolds or peppermint.
    • Sprinkle diatomaceous earth (organic) on problem plants (like lettuce or kale) to get rid of infestations before they start.
    • Put up ‘sticky traps‘ in your houseplants to catch flying pests before they lay eggs
    • Regularly spray your outdoor plants with water / gently wipe your indoor plant leaves off to knock any pests away before they can make your plant their home.
    • Spray beneficial nematodes (worm-like beneficial insects that prey on specific harmful bugs) on your outdoor ‘problem areas’ at the beginning of the season.
  2. Organic-Responsive. When bugs become an issue, there are usually some organic ways to deter or kill an unwanted infestation. We always recommend using the organic options first, as these options are less likely to further damage your plant(s), upset the surrounding environment, or cause harm to you, your children, or your pets.
  3. Chemical-Responsive. Sometimes, you need to pull out the big guns. There are chemical alternatives for most bug infestations that will provide quick and effective extermination. However, many of these chemical alternatives also come with ‘side effects’ to the surrounding ecosystem, and pose health hazards. Use these alternatives when necessary, but follow instructions carefully and avoid using around children or pets.

Specific Bugs

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be releasing a series of articles to help you deal with some of the most common bugs you’ll find in your garden, or on your houseplants. These pests can become a concern as they begin to stress or significantly damage your plants, can diminish crop yields, or can be a difficult inconvenience. We’ll cover the whole gamut – why those bugs are good, and when they’re bad, where you’ll find them, how to identify them and what you can do about them.

We’ll cover:

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Andrea Heembrock
Andrea Heembrock
Andrea works as Anything Grows Head of Marketing and Team Builder, and like everyone else at the store, she loves plants! Though she has many years of experience with plants, she gains a great deal of knowledge from her husband, Ty, who has been in the gardening industry for over two decades.