Garden pests fly, crawl, walk, hop and creep into your garden when your back is turned, and before you know it, your azaleas are stripped bare, your tomato plants are trampled and your hostas are a slimy mess. It's time to take action. Start by learning the different signs of insects, deer, rabbits and birds. Insect damage includes holes and damage to foliage, leaf drop, and deformed foliage and fruits. Rabbits love vegetables and damage shrubbery by girdling the plant at its base. Deer strip leaves to a height of up to 6 feet. Birds steal ripening fruit.
Manually remove bugs. Pluck caterpillars and slugs off with your hands, dropping them into a can for disposal. A blast of spray from the garden hose can dislodge and kill mealybugs.
Mix up a batch of homemade bug spray. Add 1 tsp. of canola oil and 1 tsp. of liquid dish soap to a 1-qt. spray bottle for a nontoxic insect spray. For fruit trees and larger plants, increase proportions to 1 cup of oil and 2 tbsp. of liquid soap in a 1-gallon sprayer.
Set traps. Slugs love saucers of beer or a lettuce leaf placed on the ground. Collect the prisoners and remove them to another location. Try a have-a-heart trap to catch and release rabbits.
Create barriers. Slugs will not pass over a barricade of copper stripping. Lightweight netting protects fruits trees and bushes but should be checked frequently in case birds become entangled. Floating row covers protect lettuce and low-growing crops from flying insects. Fencing, the ultimate rabbit and deer repellent, must be installed properly to be effective. To keep out rabbits, it must extend 6 inches below the ground. For the deer, it needs to be 8 feet high.
Invite protective beneficials. Ladybugs, praying mantises and lacewings prey on other insects. Birds consume large amounts of insects and will come to live (and eat) in your garden if you provide houses, bird-friendly plants and perhaps a feeder or two. Dogs and cats are beneficial garden allies, too—rabbits and deer may head to the nearest pet-free garden if they feel threatened.
Plant for pest repellency. Plant marigolds, petunias, rosemary, rue, garlic and other ornamental and garden favorites to repel certain insect pests. While rabbits have a reputation as voracious garden eaters, there are some plants they avoid, including tomatoes, squash and asparagus. Deer, too, have a list of lesser favorites, although complete repellency is not guaranteed.