13 essential insider secrets to a pest-free, disease-free garden

We've rounded up some practical, organic and frugal solutions to help get rid of common pests -- including the four-legged kind -- or diseases that might be affecting your garden.
You'll most likely have some of these items on hand, like dish soap and baking soda -- both of which are helpful when battling common pests and diseases. Keep reading to learn these 13 key tips!
Aphids, slugs, caterpillars, beetles and squash bugs are some of the most damaging insects pests. If you monitor your garden well, you can usually stay ahead of them. Read on to discover some helpful tips.
1. Make a DIY horticultural oil/soap spray. This spray suffocates many soft-bodied insects such as aphids and spider mites. To be most effective, the soap should come in direct contact with the insect. Master Gardener Girls' Gardening Blog recommends mixing 1 tablespoon vegetable oil with 1 teaspoon of non-degreasing dishwashing liquid for every gallon of water. Fill a spray bottle with the mixture and coat the leaves, including the undersides, of affected plants. Some plants may be sensitive, so do a little research beforehand; at the very least, test a small area of the plant before applying fully.
2. Bait slugs. Fill a few empty tuna cans with beer and place them around your garden. Slugs are attracted to the beer and will crawl in and drown. Also, slugs are active at night and prefer a moist environment. As a result, Eartheasy suggests you avoid watering your garden in the evening, which can cut down on slug damage by 80 percent.
3. Focus on larvae. Larvae are often more vulnerable than adults. According to Gardening Know How, this is true for Japanese beetles. Look into using Milky Spore, a bacterium that is only known to affect the grubs of Japanese beetles, leaving beneficial insects unharmed.
4. Let predators help. Rodale's Organic Life suggests planting plants that attract beneficial predatory insects like ladybugs and small wasps. Plants that are attractive to a variety of beneficial insects include sweet alyssum, mint, chamomile, and Queen Anne's lace.
5. Create an unfriendly environment. Diatomaceous Earth, which is crushed fossilized remains, can be spread on the ground or directly on plants. The idea is that susceptible insects, those with soft bodies or undersides, are cut by the material. If you go this route, be aware that beneficial insects can also be injured, so use it wisely.
Diseases like black spot and powdery mildew can really bring a gardener's spirits down. But all hope isn't lost. Try a few of the following tips.
6. DIY horticultural oils. These oils aren't only useful against insects. According to Whitney Cranshaw of Colorado State University Cooperative Extension, horticultural oils help to prevent diseases such as squash mosaic and watermelon mosaic from spreading. Before spraying plants, test a small area to make sure it isn't sensitive. You don't want to further harm a diseased plant.
7. Make a homemade fungicide. Master Gardener Girls' Gardening Blog shares a couple of recipes for DIY fungicides. One option is to mix 3 tablespoons of good quality apple cider vinegar in 1 gallon of water. You can also try mixing 1 heaping tablespoon of baking soda with 1 tablespoon of horticultural oil and 1 gallon of water. Spray either mixture lightly on plant foliage affected by fungal diseases such as black spot and powdery mildew.
8. Use hydrogen peroxide. Off the Grid News points to hydrogen peroxide's ability to prevent bacterial and fungal infections. They suggest spraying a 3 percent hydrogen peroxide mixture directly on the plant. Always test an area of the plant first to make sure you don't do any damage.
Deer, rabbits, raccoons, gophers and moles can all make a gardener's life very difficult. Here are a few suggestions to keep these unwelcome pests at bay.
9. Make getting to your garden a challenge. If raccoons or other climbing mammals give you trouble, Organic Authority cleverly suggests surrounding your garden with a mesh fence. However, leave the top foot of the fence unsecured. When animals reach the top, the hope is the unsecured part of the fence will flip back on them and keep them from entering your garden. Sturdier fences can help keep out other pests as well. A 2-foot-high fence will keep rabbits out. But make sure it's metal (they chew through plastic), and install it 3 to 6 inches underground so rabbits can't burrow beneath it. Unfortunately, deer are able to jump pretty high, and an 8-foot fence is needed to ensure that they can't get to your garden.
10. Use the element of surprise. The Gardener's Supply Company says that noise makers, motion-activated sprinklers and visual disturbances, such as reflective tape, can effectively deter mammals from entering your garden. But mammals will catch on if you don't switch up your methods, so if you opt to go this route, be sure to mix it up.
11. Cut mammals off. Make sure you aren't providing unwelcome animals with shelter such as access under your deck or shed. Animals are much less likely to frequent your yard if they have nowhere close to take shelter. Also, keep your compost covered if food scraps are readily added.
12. Use repellents to deter animals. Predator urine, soaps and offensive odors, including garlic, pungent herbs and essential oils, can all help to keep four-legged pests from munching on your greens. Predator Guard does a great job explaining how to go about using these types of repellents. Keep in mind that most of these methods are temporary and need to be reapplied frequently.
13. Install underground fencing. Moles and gophers can really wreak havoc on your garden. For smaller areas, wire mesh may provide you with a solution. SF Gate suggests using galvanized wire with holes no larger than 3/4 of an inch. In order to install wire mesh for this purpose, it's necessary to remove all soil from the garden bed. If it's a ground level garden, dig 8 inches deep, and line the bottom and all sides of the bed with mesh, tightly securing the edges together. For a raised bed, line the bottom with wire mesh, securing it tightly to the edges of the bed so critters can't squeeze through.
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