We’ve all been frustrated one time or another by the destruction caused by a garden pest. Maybe it’s the Japanese beetle eating your beautiful rose blooms or chewing on your green beans. Or maybe it’s just a pesky mosquito making your relaxing afternoon in the hammock impossible. If you’re not interested in using sprays to get rid of these garden nuisances, no problem: There are ways to keep these insects away naturally without using chemicals. Here are a few simple ideas to get you started with some basics.

Mosquito swatting

Mosquitos can be quite the nuisance just when you're trying to relax!

Photo Credit: Sarah Landicho

Flybox

You can create a nesting place for hoverflies by building a fly box.

Photo Credit: Jennifer Manning

Bat house

Bat houses come in a variety of sizes. This one will hold up to 150 bats!

Photo Credit: Jennifer Manning

Marigolds

Marigolds provide colorful flowers and natural pest protection.

Photo Credit: Megan Bame

Peonies and the Tiphia Wasp

Peonies are a beautiful spring-blooming perennial that produce some of the largest and intensely fragrant flowers. (There’s one cultivar called ‘Dinner Plate’ – you can imagine its size!) These beautiful flowers attract a beneficial insect called the Tiphia wasp, which eats the larvae of Japanese beetles (a pest that can wreak havoc on summer blooms). We usually refer to Japanese beetle larvae as grubs. These grubs are found underground, busily munching on grass roots until they become adults and begin to munch on everything aboveground. Tiphia wasps love peony nectar. So if you plant these beautiful perennials around your garden, you can create a feeding ground for the wasps to help destroy your Japanese beetle populations. (Another spring-blooming plant enjoyed by Tiphia wasps is the forsythia.)

The hoverfly is a beneficial insect that loves aphids and mealybugs. Aphids are little white insects that feed on all types of vegetation. They secrete a sugary waste called honeydew, which attracts other pests and causes black and brown mold to develop on the underside of leaves, making a plant unsightly. Mealybugs suck the juice from plants and leaves, and they, too, feed on a variety of plants.

Bat Houses

Bats are a wonderful addition to the garden: They eat all kinds of insects, and one of their favorites is the annoying mosquito. A bat can feast on hundreds of insects in one hour, and they can eat as much as half their body weight in insects each night. (That’s a lot of insects: Imagine if you ate 12 large pizzas in an evening – that’s about how much a bat eats every night!) A bat house is a great way to attract bats and provide a safe shelter for them. Providing a nearby water source is also important.

Ready-made bat houses and building plans to create your own are readily available. It’s important to make sure certain specifications are met so that your structure will attract bats. For example, the house needs to be at least 15 feet off the ground and receive six to eight hours of sunlight per day (so the house stays nice and warm for the young).

Herbs and Marigolds

Marigolds provide colorful flowers and natural pest protection. Planting flowers and herbs that attract beneficial insects is a great way to beautify your yard with color and fragrance, while fighting unwanted insects and pests. Plant tiny flowers with small nectaries so there are many places for beneficial insects to feed. Too large of a flower can actually drown a tiny parasitic wasp, which feeds off of – and then kills – host insects such as leaf miners and aphids. Herbs like fennel and dill produce nice small flowers. Try planting these and other scented herbs in between your rows of vegetables to attract beneficial insects and to encourage them to settle in your garden rows and go after your garden pests. Try marigolds, too. These plants are a natural bug repellent: Many insects don’t like the scent of these blooms, and they’ll even avoid the surrounding plants. (For this reason, many gardeners choose to surround their vegetable gardens with a marigold border for protection.)

These are just a few simple tips to fight garden pests naturally without having to use chemicals. Of course, there are many other ways to create an environment that attracts beneficial insects to your garden. Planting peonies, putting up a fly box or bat house, and planting herbs and marigolds are just a few fun and easy ways to get started.