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Top five tips for keeping garden pests away

Discover ways to keep your lawn and garden pest-free. (Thinkstock)Summer might be the season of barbecues and road work, but it's also the season for skunks, creepy crawlies and other garden visitors you'd rather keep away.

While most of these critters aren't harmful to people, they can wreak havoc on your lawn and garden.

Which is why we recently spoke with gardening guru Peter Cantley, vice-president, floral and garden for Loblaws to find out how to keep these pesky critters from destroying your outdoor space, using natural methods.

Large mammals or rodents

In order to deter large mammals or rodents, Cantley advises using a mixture of black pepper corns and cayenne pepper dusted around the perimeter of the area you want protected. "When applied to the soil surface this becomes an eye and nose irritant," he says. You'll need to reapply after about a week or following a heavy rain.

"If this technique is not a strong enough deterrent there are predator scent capsules on the market that emit the odour of predator urine or electronic pest repelling products that use ultrasonic sound," he adds. Keep in mind that some of these products (including the above mixture) could also affect welcome furry friends like your cat or dog.

Snails and slugs

Popular among many garden enthusiasts, hostas are particularly vulnerable to damage from snails and slugs. Cantley advises using either crushed eggshells or diatomaceous earth on the soil around the plants to keep them away.

"The soil becomes highly abrasive and any soft bodied insect will be deterred from crawling through the treated soil onto the plants."

Small flying insects

"To deter small flying insects such as some aphids or beetles a good presence of birds is your first line of defence," says Cantley. Placing a regularly-stocked bird feeder on your property will attract many local native birds.  "This is the most environmentally safe way to deter and remove unwanted insects from the garden."

[See also: The one plant you should grow this year]

Aphids, mites

Last summer, we lost our whole crop of kale and spinach to a mighty infestation of aphids. These tiny creatures can do a lot of damage in little time. One safe way to get rid of these and other soft-bodied insects is to use a solution of dish soap and water, which you spray directly onto the insect in question.

You can also buy premade insecticidal soap at most garden centres. Remember to wash anything  you're going to eat really well after using this treatment though. "These treatments should be washed off treated plants if no rainfall has occurred 48 — 72 hrs after application as it leaves an undesirable film on the foliage," says Cantley.

Grubs

If you wake up in the morning and your lawn looks like a battlefield, chances are you've been visited by a skunk who's made a feast of the grubs that nibble your grass roots. Grubs can be one of the most difficult pests to get rid of, often requiring several treatments of nematodes.

"Nematodes are microscopic asexual worms that use the body of grubs as a home and food source," says Cantley. Nematodes need to be mixed with water and applied to the lawn using either a watering can or a special applicator that comes with them.

"Once applied to the soil surface they need to be watered in so that the nematodes end up below the grass roots." The nematodes will then seek out grubs to burrow into, killing the grub and reproducing more nematodes.

"These applications are best done twice a year — once in May and a second in the September," says Cantley. This is when grubs are relatively close to the soil surface. Since nematodes tend not to survive winter's cold temperatures, Cantley suggests that the twice a year application rate is followed for at least two years. After this you can get away with an annual application in September to maintain a grub-free lawn.

Learn more gardening basics in the video below.

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