One of the most prevalent culture shocks when relocating from city to country is getting used to the wildlife that roam and graze in the backyard. In an urban lifestyle, you could come across these critters in the streets or maybe on a sidewalk, but the lights and traffic tend to keep them at bay. Making the move to rural areas may bring about a new acquaintanceship for homeowners with some interesting creepy crawlers.
If you plan to grow crops or keep a tidy backyard in suburbia, there are a few common critters that you should be aware of. Not all of them are bad for your vegetation, and in fact, some are beneficial for your crops. A few of these creatures may even act as natural pesticide and prey on harmful insects.
For homeowners, the best thing to do in protecting your garden from harm is to familiarize yourself with how the ecosystem is maintained, and support the helpful critters. Know when and how to prevent predators from eating your plants, and maintain a healthy feeding and watering regimen to keep your new sprouts green and bright.
Be sure to research the area before you move and check with local farmers to find out about any native species that can be particularly harmful to your plants. Locals can share with you more information about what to expect from the weather during different seasons, how to prepare appropriately, and what types of treatment are most effective in eliminating pests.
Until you have the opportunity to consult a local expert, here are some general backyard creatures that you might find creeping around your garden. There are several good ones to keep around, a few bad ones to keep an eye on, and some tips for keeping the plant predators away while maintaining a healthy and fruitful garden.
The Good Pests
This real queen of the garden, adorned with the bright and shiny reputation and the prettiest wings to ever be recreated into a child’s Halloween costume, happens to be the common ladybug. Ladybugs are known to eat as many as 50-60 aphids per day and consume massive amounts of other invasive attackers.
Lady bugs can be purchased in bulk from your local hardware or garden supply store. They are such friendly and amiable bugs that they are deemed one of the best natural pesticides.
Some homeowners have trouble keeping lady bugs concentrated in their gardens rather than flying away. You can lessen this risk by releasing the ladybugs in the right place. Spritz your plant leaves with water first, then release the ladybugs on the plants with the most aphids and water. By giving the ladybugs a habitat that meets their needs, they will be enticed to stick around and take care of your pest problem.
Black and yellow honeybees may seem like pests, but in actuality, they are vital to your crops’ growth. They will spread out seeds and pollen for you, keeping your crops healthy and lively. Some types of bees may not be as kind to humans, so be sure to ask about local species in your area. For the most part, these pollinators will mind their own beeswax as long as humans don’t get in their way.
While there are quite a few snakes slithering around that are cause for alarm, the garter snake is not one of them. Garter snakes live in harmony with your plants, and they hide from humans and pets alike. They will eat many bugs, slugs, snails, and small rodents that are attacking your crops.
Typically, garter snakes are grey, brown, black, or even olive in color. While these snakes are fairly benign and non-venomous, they may bite if they feel threatened. They are relatively harmless, but they are quick to nip and thrash.
Dragonflies, while beautiful aerial fliers, are not only a threat to many bugs and insects, but are absolutely terrifying predators. They can snatch their prey in mid-air after spotting them with their acute vision from far away. They will kill your mosquitoes, gnats, and other annoying bugs without so much as a blink of one of their many eyes.
The Bad Bugs
As we may all remember from childhood, the very hungry caterpillar is nothing less than insatiable. Caterpillars will munch and crunch away at your plant leaves, leaving holes and then leave the skeletons of your beloved plants.
If you don’t have any garter snakes around or enough birds to control these infestations, you can try to handpick the caterpillars from your plants and toss them into a pail of water and dish soap mixture. This will kill them right away. Alternatively, you can spray your plants with a soapy water mixture. This will not kill the bugs, but it will make the leaves too slippery for the bugs to climb across.
Rabbits are notorious foragers. They can multiply quickly and chow down on your vegetation before prime picking season comes around. While most bugs tend to leave jagged teeth marks on the remnants of their lunch leaves, rabbits will make a clean cut from the yummy green shoots at the bottom of the plant. They tend to come out at dusk or the early morning, but almost never in broad daylight. Rabbits may be deterred by the smell of onions in your crops, or you might sprinkle some cayenne pepper around the area to keep them from trespassing.
Gophers and moles may pose a different challenge to your crops. These burrowers can dig deep enough into the ground to feast on the roots and stems of your plants. Some homeowners have had luck in scattering castor oil or other repellents around the yard, targeting the gopher holes.
Beetles are dangerous creepy crawlers with a voracious appetite. These critters will munch on your plants all the way to the stem until there is nothing left. To eliminate these bugs, you can head out to the garden in the early morning hours when the beetles are still feeling a little slow and sluggish, and then knock them off of the leaves into a bucket of soapy water.
Snails and Slugs
Similar to beetles, snails and slugs can devour your crops very quickly. This may be a surprise given how slowly they move, but their appetite makes up for their speed in tenfold. There are many types of snail bait available at your local hardware or garden store, or you can try an old beer trick. Put a shallow container into your soil so that the rim is level with the ground. Then, fill the container with flat beer and leave it overnight. Snails and slugs are attracted to the smell of yeast in the beer and will easily fall into the trap by morning.
Steps For Prevention
As you think ahead to planting season, consider making a plan for keeping pests away from your plants. You might think about physical barriers, such as fences to deter rabbits or covers to keep out pesky bugs. Develop a schedule and routinely check for holes, missing leaves, bite marks or patterns in dying areas. Any of these could be a sign of an infestation. And lastly, be sure to create an environment that is welcoming to the predators of your common pests, so that they can keep the ecosystem running without a hit to your bank account for chemical pesticides and treatments.
Keeping these pesky creatures away from your homegrown food supply may seem daunting at first, but as long as you maintain a healthy feed and watering schedule for your plants, keep a watchful eye for predators, and treat issues immediately, you will have no problem keeping your garden healthy and plentiful.
Melanie Theriault is a writer, counselor, and lifelong learner. She holds a B.A. in Sociology from Southwestern University, where she discovered her passion for fostering human connection through storytelling.