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Using Beneficial Nematodes in Your Garden

July 21, 2015 | By | 2 Replies More

beneficial nematodesAs Mr. President often says when something’s a challenge, “If it was easy, everyone would do it!” I feel this way sometimes about organic gardening. I know why some people resort to using chemicals in their garden. It’s not easy to maintain plant health and keep pests at bay the natural way. But, the rewards for doing so are numerous: a healthy garden ecosystem with plenty of beneficial insects, healthy soil, chemical-free food, and environmental responsibility.

As an organic gardener, I am always looking for more tools that I can use to keep garden pests in check. Healthy plants can sustain a little damage here and there, but I never want to let any one pest overtake my garden. This year, Japanese beetles have been worse than before, probably because I’ve planted so many of their favorite things, and I also have a good population of striped cucumber beetles on my cucurbits.

These pests, along with some others like the three-lined potato beetle and flea beetles, spend part of their lives underground. Many garden pests start out as larvae in garden soil where they hatch, munch on plants’ roots and then emerge as adults where they eagerly chow down on foliage and fruit. If you can kill the larvae before they turn into adults, you can significantly reduce pest populations in your garden.

That’s where beneficial nematodes come in. These microscopic organisms act as parasites to many different types of grubs and larvae, rendering them ill and killing them before they can emerge. Beneficial nematodes occur naturally in soil and are safe for people, pets, plants, and the environment. They are harmless to good things in your soil, like earthworms.

How to Use Beneficial Nematodes

beneficial nematodesPurchase beneficial nematodes either online or from your local garden center. The packages will be available in many different sizes depending on the square footage you want to cover. They need to be kept refrigerated until you are ready to apply them.

Wait until dusk because direct sunlight can kill the beneficial nematodes before they can burrow into your soil. Ideally, you should wait until after a good soaking rain or simply water the area thoroughly yourself prior to application.

The nematodes will be on a medium such as a type of sponge or wood chips. Check out the package instructions – you will need soak the medium in water to dislodge the beneficial nematodes. The amount of water doesn’t matter so much and will only affect the amount of ground you can cover. Soaking in a smaller amount of water will result in a higher concentration of nematodes over a smaller patch of your garden. A larger amount of water will be more dilute with nematodes but you’ll cover more ground.

beneficial nematodesYou can use a hose-end sprayer to broadcast the nematode-infused water over a large area. However, for my smaller garden, I simply used my watering can to apply the nematodes in the areas I wanted to target. I applied them to the soil around my cucumbers, squash and melons and around the hibiscus and roses where the Japanese beetles are feasting.

Apply beneficial nematodes whenever you’d like and as often as you’d like. A spring application is best to ward off early pests. If introduced mid-season, beneficial nematodes can help prevent second and third generations of pests. Over time, their populations will rise naturally.

When you combine good gardening practices like crop rotation with a chemical-free environment where beneficial insects and nematodes can help do some of the work for you, your garden will thrive. Beneficial nematodes are my new secret underground weapon against garden pests.


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Category: Home and Garden, Kitchen Garden

Comments (2)

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  1. Regina says:

    I have had gardeners tell me not to use nematodes because I’ll never get rid of them. Are they ok to use long term or will I regret it.

    • Brande says:

      Hi Regina! I’ve never heard that, and I would wonder why you would ever need to get rid of them. Some nematodes are bad because they feed on the roots of healthy plants, making it hard for them to absorb water and nutrients. But, these beneficial types don’t do that – they attack grubs in your soil that either harm plants’ roots or turn into nasty garden insects like Japanese beetles and the like.

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