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Bats, bugs and toads good for gardens

Jessica Walliser
| Friday, Dec. 27, 2013, 8:57 p.m.
A bat box mounted onto a barn
Jessica Walliser
A bat box mounted onto a barn

As the New Year is upon us, I feel certain that many of us are about to make some sort of resolution targeted at bettering ourselves in one way or another. While weight loss and smoking-cessation resolutions are awesome, how about trying something a little different for 2014? Rather than making a resolution to better yourself, why not make one to better the world around you? Your garden is the perfect place to start!

Here are three realistic New Year's resolutions that will not only help you cut down on pests, they'll help you create a more beautiful garden.

Resolve to cut down on pests ... by promoting bats! A single bat can eat more than his or her own body weight in insects every night (that's up to 4,500 mosquitoes, moths, and beetles that won't be feasting on you or your garden!). Bat houses are flat, wooden structures positioned 15 feet above the ground and facing the southeast, where they can receive seven or more hours of direct sunlight per day. Bat houses can be located on the outside of a shed, barn, or garage and should have a good 15 to 25 feet of open space in front of them to enable the bats easy access. There are many different styles of bat houses, each with their own positive attributes, but those that are 2 feet tall with multiple housing chambers and a landing area extending below the entrance tend to shelter the greatest number of bats.

Resolve to cut down on pests ... by promoting toads! Toads are extremely adept at lapping up ants, snails, slugs, beetles and scores of other insects. These nocturnal creatures are a huge boon to gardeners. Toads take shelter during the day by hunkering down in mulch or other cool, dark places. To encourage toads in your garden, make a few “toad abodes” out of clay pots. Eight-inch-diameter terra-cotta pots are perfect. Knock out two portions of the pot's top rim with a hammer, positioning them opposite from each other to create an entrance and an exit. The entrance and exit holes should be about 3 inches wide and 2 inches high to accommodate a fully grown toad. Sand the edges smooth if there are any sharp points projecting from them. Put a few handfuls of shredded bark mulch down before inverting the pot over the top of it. If you'd like, you can recruit your kids or grandkids to decorate the toad abodes with outdoor paint, glued-on plastic “gems,” pebbles or seashells. Locate several inverted toad house pots in a sheltered, shady spot right in the vegetable garden.

Resolve to cut down on pests ... by promoting beneficial insects! It's a bug-eat-bug world out there, and there are thousands of different species of predatory and parasitic insects that feed on pest insects or use them to house their developing young. Beneficial insects like ladybugs, lacewings, syrphid flies, tachinid flies, non-stinging parasitic wasps, and minute pirate bugs need nectar, pollen and shelter to do their best work. Attract these and other pest-controlling beneficial insects by planting a large diversity of flowering plants in and around the vegetable garden. As they do not have specialized mouthparts, these small, beneficial insects prefer to source nectar from members of the carrot family, the daisy family, and the cabbage family. Plants like black-eyed-Susans, cilantro, Shasta daisies, sweet alyssum, dill, fennel, cosmos, coreopsis and others are perfect for supporting beneficial insects as well as much-needed pollinators.

Horticulturist Jessica Walliser co-hosts “The Organic Gardeners” at 7 a.m. Sundays on KDKA Radio. She is the author of several gardening books, including “Grow Organic” and “Good Bug, Bad Bug.” Her website is

Send your gardening or landscaping questions to or The Good Earth, 503 Martindale St., 3rd Floor, D.L. Clark Building, Pittsburgh, PA 15212.

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