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How to get rid of garden pests

By OVO Energy Wednesday 01 March 2017

Removing pests from the garden

We Brits love our gardens. Whether we’re stomping around in the soil planting veggies, soaking up some (rare!) sun or simply having five meditative minutes of time-out, the humble back garden is a sanctuary. Until unwanted visitors arrive, that is. From tiny aphids devouring your flowers to foxes digging up the lawn, garden pests can wreak havoc on your precious space. Here’s how to get rid of them quickly and easily.

How to get rid of aphids in the garden

Common little blighters, aphids will gnaw through your prized flowers faster than a child will devour an icecream. With their sharp rostrum, they pierce the stems of young plants and suck out the nutrient-rich green sap, giving the plants a wilted and sad appearance. Aphids can also carry viruses that enter the plant's metabolism through the incision as the aphid feeds.

To remedy an aphid problem, first get rid of any currently residing on your plants with a hose – simply rinse them off – then spray the flowers thoroughly with citrus rind spray. You can easily make this at home by mixing the grated rind of one lemon or orange with 500ml of boiling water. Let it sit overnight, then filter out the bits of rind with a fine sieve or coffee filter. Using a spray bottle, apply the mixture to your plants every four to seven days.

Another way of getting rid of aphids is to introduce them to a new neighbour - for example, ladybird beetles have a huge appetite for aphids and can devour an entire infestation in a matter of days. You can buy them in bulk in most garden centres or farming equipment stores.

How to get rid of ants in the garden

Ants are generally harmless creatures and pose little threat to most garden plants, but if you find they’re causing a nuisance, try a few homemade remedies before calling in the exterminators.

Good ant deterrents that work a treat are:

  • Gently rake over the nest every day for a week or two. Ants don't like being disturbed so many set up camp elsewhere. Doing so also exposes them to birds, who’ll appreciate a tasty snack!
  • The old boiling water trick will only work if a) the nest is relatively small, and b) you actually pour boiling water into the nest – there’s no point simply lobbing water over the top of it. Locate the source, gently puncture the soil and pour in several gallons.
  • Try adding this homemade solution for extra clout: one part camphor oil with 9 parts methylated spirits.

Some gardening handbooks and websites still advise to leave an offering of baking soda and sugar near the ant colony. Whilst effective, we wouldn't encourage this method as it is a slow and painful death for the ants - the baking soda creates a gas inside the ant's stomachs, which makes them swell up until they die - not a pleasant way to go!

Preventing foxes from moving into your garden

Once a fox has moved in to your garden, they’re pretty difficult to shift (unless they’re injured, the RSPCA can’t help), so prevention, not cure, is the name of the game here (although there are several products – sonic sound devices and sprays such as Scoot and Get Off My Garden – which may prove effective if they’ve only recently arrived). Apart from the danger they pose to children and pets (urban foxes especially carry infectious diseases, and become quite aggressive), you'll quickly grow tired of waking up at silly o'clock to a dissonant dawn chorus of screeching and barking, and finding your bins ransacked and their content strewn across your lawn.

To prevent foxes taking up residency:

  • Put up fencing or prickly plants around the periphery of the garden
  • Prevent access to areas under sheds or decking – these are prime locations for families to set up camp!
  • Use securely sealed bins and make sure your rubbish is collected regularly. 
  • Don’t leave any food waste lying around – make sure bird food is placed on raised bird feeders and tables

If you find a fox den in your garden, don’t block it unless you’re sure it’s empty. To check, lightly block the entrances with loose soil or sticks, through which a fox can easily break out. If after a few days the holes are still blocked, pack them more thoroughly with soil. Take care in the spring to avoid blocking cubs into an earth – instead block dens between late summer and late winter.

Moles

Moles make a formidable foe to the freshly laid lawn, and can literally tear your garden up overnight. But apart from turning your lawn into an eyesore, harbouring a mole colony under your garden can also pose a significant risk to the integrity of your property. If left unchecked, their tunnels can destabilise whole buildings and 

The good news is that they’re quite easy to deter, providing you do so as soon as they make themselves known. There are several effective methods of getting rid of garden moles.

  • Spraying a solution through your lawn that causes the little critters to feel itchy helps to move them on. To do this, mix up a solution of vegetable oil, castor oil, washing up liquid and cayenne pepper (dilute it with water so it doesn’t ruin the grass), then spray liberally in and around the mole hills.
  • Pouring castor oil directly into the tunnel will give moles an upset stomach and discourage them from staying.
  • Placing a few humane mousetraps in and around the tunnels can prove effective, too, since moles are about the same size as large mice. Be sure to check them regularly to prevent accidentally starving a poor critter to death, and if you do catch one make sure to release it back into the wild in a suitable place - not only far away from your prized lawn, but also within a safe distance of the nearest horse field or cow pen.

Slugs

Gardeners have several efficient weapons in the anti-slug arsenal. Try leaving an open tub or can of beer out overnight – they’ll climb into it and can be whisked away in the morning. Alternatively try sprinkling coffee around areas you want to protect, or even spritzing plants with cooled-down coffee – this works well in deterring snails, too!

If all these fail and your beloved lettuce beds are at risk of falling prey to a horde of ravenous slugs, forget using salt. Similar to the baking soda method of getting rid of ants, it's quite a cruel way of disposing of sentient creatures as the salt effectively dries the slug out. If you have no choice but to kill slugs, use a kitchen knife to quickly decapitate them - this is the most humane way of killing slugs.

O​VO​ Energy Ltd, registered office 1 Rivergate Temple Quay Bristol, BS1 6ED, company no. 06890795 registered in England and Wales, VAT No. 100119879

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