Trap crops are used as part of integrated pest management in an organic garden. They are a specific type of companion planting which can help you increase yields in your garden and manage pests in your space in a sustainable way.
But there is a lot of confusion about trap crops, and how they are used. So in this article, we will go into a little more depth on this issue, so you understand what trap crops are and why we use them. We’ll delve into some common examples of trap crops and finally, talk about how trap crops can be used in your garden.
What Are Trap Crops?
Trap crops are plants which are placed in a garden because they are particularly attractive to common pest species. Pests are drawn preferentially to these plants, which helps to keep them away from more valuable crop plants in your garden, and draws in predatory creatures to keep those pest numbers down.
There are two main types of trap crop. Some trap crops are somewhat sacrificial, usually earlier plantings of the main crop itself. More commonly, however, trap crops are different species. These species are selected due to their hardiness and ability to withstand pest attack. Or because they grow quickly and easily can be lost without great impact to the overall yield in your garden.
The trap crops you will choose will obviously depend on the main crops you are growing, and the pests which can be problematic in your particular garden.
Why Use Them in Your Garden?
Trap crops can be a hugely useful part of organic pest management because they can distract common pests and reduce main crop losses. And also because they draw in other wildlife which helps keep the garden ecosystem in balance.
Balancing the ecosystem is key in keeping pest species in check, and obtaining yields from your garden which are as high as possible. Of course, in an organic garden, we should be avoiding the use of harmful pesticides. And trap crops can be part of an integrated strategy which allows us to do just. They can help us to garden in an eco-friendly way.
However, choosing the right trap crops, and using trap crops in the right way is key. Use the wrong companion plants or use them in the wrong way and you can end up making a pest breeding factory rather than keeping your main crops safe.
Examples of Trap Crops
If you are planning on using trap crops of a different species, then there are plenty to consider. Some common examples of trap crops include:
Nasturtiums – for aphids and flea beetles.
French marigolds – for certain nematodes, slugs, thrips
Sunflowers – for aphids and other sap-suckers.
Sweet alyssum – for a range of insect pests.
Amaranth – cucumber/ cucurbit pests.
Radishes – for flea beetle, root flies etc..
Mustard – a range of brassica pests.
Chervil – especially for slugs.
Dill – a range of tomato pests and others.
Nettles – aphids (especially early in the season).
These are, of course, just a few examples. These are just some options which can be helpful here in the UK. But it is important to consider each site, and its location, in order to determine the best ones to use in a specific garden. Trap crops which are beneficial in one garden may not work so well or be the best options for another. As always in a garden, it is important to choose plants with reference to the specific site. And with reference to the preferences of the individual gardener.
How To Use Them
These plants might be placed:
Around the edges of a growing area or garden. (Border planting)
In rows between main productive crops. (Intercropping)
Dotted throughout the growing area, between main crops. (Mixed planting in a polyculture.)
In pots or containers in or near the main crop areas.
In a spot at a certain remove from the maincrop areas.
As mentioned above, using trap crops in the right way is key. It is important to consider that attracting the right pest species with the right plants is just the beginning. You also need to place them in the right places, and know what to do with them once the pest species arrive.
Sometimes, these plants are ripped up and removed before the pests complete their life cycles. This is commonly a strategy employed with border plantings and in intercropping.
Sometimes, they may be left in place and pests may be picked or managed manually. This strategy is obviously easier in smaller gardens, and when there are not a huge number of plants to manage in the garden. Sometimes, organic pest sprays may be used.
Sometimes, these plants may be left in place to encourage natural predators to arrive and take care of the pests. This can be a good strategy when the trap crops are placed a little way away from the main crops you are trying to protect, and can help improve the overall balance in your garden ecosystem.
The right strategy will depend on the specific situation and the pests and plants that you are dealing with.
Other Strategies in an Organic Garden
It is important to remember that trap crops are just one of the methods you should be employing for pest control in your organic garden. You should also be sure to include companion plants which aid your main crops and help in pest control in other ways.
For example, you should be adding companion plants which improve environmental conditions and create healthier plants which will be less likely to succumb to pest attack. You should also be companion planting to repel or confuse pest species. Use alliums or aromatic herbs with strong fragrance, for example. And you should be companion planting to attract a wide range of beneficial wildlife – including pollinators, and predatory insects.
When trap crops are used, it is important to remember that they are only part of the picture. Other types of companion planting, taking care of the soil, and other organic gardening strategies also form part of the puzzle of pest control. When managing pests in your garden, it is important not just to rely on one strategy, but to take a holistic approach.
Do you use trap crops in your garden? Which do you use? And where and how exactly do you use them? Share your own knowledge and experience below to help others trap crop effectively in their own gardens.
Elizabeth Waddington is a writer and green living consultant living in Scotland. Permaculture and sustainability are at the heart of everything she does, from designing gardens and farms around the world, to inspiring and facilitating positive change for small companies and individuals.
She also works on her own property, where she grows fruit and vegetables, keeps chickens and is working on the eco-renovation of an old stone barn.
To get in touch, visit https://ewspconsultancy.com.