Vertical Garden Pest Control: Keeping Your Plants Healthy and Safe

Jun 12, 2023Plant Selection & Care

1. Introduction: The Pest Predicament

Vertical garden pest control is an important aspect of maintaining a healthy, thriving green wall. While vertical gardens are stunning, they can often attract pests that can harm or even kill your plants. By understanding and applying the right strategies, you can ensure your vertical garden stays protected.

This guide will provide you with the knowledge to identify common pests, spot early signs of an infestation, and take the necessary actions to defend your vertical garden.

2. Preventive Measures for Vertical Gardens

Prevention is the first line of defence against pests. By following these preventive measures, you can help keep your vertical garden healthy and pest-free:

  • Healthy Plant Selection: Start with strong, healthy plants that are less likely to succumb to pest attacks. Also, consider choosing native Australian plants that are more resistant to local pests.
  • Proper Spacing: Adequate spacing between plants aids in air circulation and prevents the rapid spread of pests.
  • Cleanliness: Keep your garden area clean. Remove dead leaves and stems as they can serve as hiding spots for pests or as breeding grounds for disease.
  • Regular Inspection: Regularly inspect your plants, especially the undersides of leaves, for early signs of pests. Early detection can make treatment more manageable.
  • Companion Planting: Companion planting is a natural and effective way to manage pests in your vertical garden. Certain plants, when grown together, can deter pests, attract beneficial insects, or enhance each other’s growth. Here are a few examples that work well in Australian gardens:
    • Marigolds: These bright flowers are not only aesthetically pleasing but can also deter aphids and other pests.
    • Basil: Basil pairs well with tomatoes, repelling flies and mosquitoes, while enhancing growth and flavour.
    • Garlic: Planting garlic near roses can help keep aphids away.
    • Nasturtiums: These flowers can attract caterpillars, diverting them from your other plants.

Remember, companion planting is a balance between science and art. You’ll need to consider each plant’s growing requirements to ensure they make good neighbours.

Companion planting of tomatoes and marigolds

3. Common Pests in Vertical Gardens

Australia’s diverse climate and rich biodiversity also bring a variety of pests that may invade your vertical garden. Here are some of the most common ones to watch out for:

  • Aphids: These tiny sap-sucking insects can cause leaves to curl and stunt plant growth. Aphids also excrete a sweet substance called “honeydew,” which can attract other pests and lead to sooty mould
  • Caterpillars: The larvae of butterflies and moths, caterpillars are voracious leaf eaters. In Australia, the Cabbage White Butterfly’s green caterpillars are a common pest for leafy greens and brassicas.
  • Whiteflies: Similar to aphids, whiteflies suck plant sap and excrete honeydew. They’re commonly found on the underside of leaves, causing them to yellow and drop.
  • Snails and Slugs: These pests are particularly fond of moist, shaded gardens, feasting on a wide range of plants. Their distinctive trail and the holes they leave on leaves make them easy to identify.
  • Scale Insects: These pests appear as small, immobile bumps on stems and leaves. They feed on plant sap, causing yellowing or wilting.

If you are curious about the pests in your garden, you’ll find images and information about Australian pests helpful to work out a course of action to solve your problem.

Aphids on the underside of a leaf in a vertical garden

Signs of Pest Infestation

Early detection of pests can make a huge difference in protecting your vertical garden. Here are signs to look out for:

  • Visible Pests: The simplest sign is seeing the pests themselves, like snails or caterpillars, on your plants.
  • Holes or Bite Marks on Leaves: This can be a sign of caterpillars, snails, or other chewing pests.
  • Yellowing or Wilting: If your plants are yellowing, wilting, or dropping leaves prematurely, they may be infested with sap-sucking pests like aphids or whiteflies.
  • Stunted or Distorted Growth: If new leaves or shoots appear stunted or twisted, aphids or other sap-suckers could be the cause.
  • Sooty Mould or Sticky Residue: A black, sooty mould or sticky residue on leaves can be a sign of honeydew-secreting pests like aphids or whiteflies.

Stay vigilant and regularly check your vertical garden for these signs. If spotted early, pest control will be more manageable and less harmful to your plants.

Leaves eaten by insects in a vertical garden

4. Natural Pest Control Methods for Vertical Gardens

In addition to companion planting, several natural methods can effectively control pests in your vertical garden. These environmentally friendly solutions can help maintain the health of your garden without the harsh impact of chemicals.

4.1 How to Attract Beneficial Insects to Your Vertical Garden: 

Attracting beneficial insects to your vertical garden involves creating a hospitable environment for them. These insects not only help in controlling pests but also play a role in pollination. Here are some ways you can strategies you can try:

Plant a Variety of Flowers: Planting a mix of flowering plants can attract a diverse range of beneficial insects. Different species are attracted to different types of flowers, so a variety of colours, shapes, and blooming times can attract a wider range of beneficial insects. Native Australian plants are especially beneficial as they are tailored to the local insect population.

Provide Food Sources: Many beneficial insects feed on nectar and pollen when they’re not preying on pests. By providing plenty of flowering plants, you’ll offer these insects the food they need to survive and reproduce.

Create a Habitat: Certain beneficial insects need a place to overwinter or lay their eggs. Leaving some areas of your garden a bit wild, with dead leaves or fallen logs, can provide valuable habitats for these insects. In vertical gardens, having some plants with dense foliage can serve as a refuge for these helpful bugs.

Avoid or Minimise Pesticides: Chemical pesticides can harm beneficial insects as well as pests. Using organic or natural pest control methods and only resorting to chemical pesticides as a last resort can help maintain a population of beneficial insects.

Provide Water: Just like other creatures, insects need water to survive. Especially in dry climates or seasons, providing a small dish of water with pebbles (for the insects to land on) can be very helpful.

By attracting beneficial insects, you can implement a natural and sustainable form of pest control in your vertical garden.

4.2 Recipes for DIY Natural Sprays for Your Vertical Garden:

Homemade, eco-friendly pest control solutions can be effective alternatives to chemical pesticides. They are often made from common household items, making them affordable and easy to create. Here are a few recipes:

Garlic Insecticide Spray: 

Garlic is a natural pest deterrent. To make a garlic spray, blend two whole bulbs with a small amount of water, strain the mixture then add enough water to make 500ml. Spray plants liberally. Here’s a more detailed guide.

Chilli Spray: 

Chillies can deter pests with their heat. Blend half a cup of chillies with 500ml of water, strain, and spray on affected plants. Be sure to wear gloves and avoid your eyes when handling chilli. Here’s a complete recipe.

Soap Spray: 

Mild dish soap mixed with water can be effective against many soft-bodied insects like aphids and mites. Mix 2 tablespoons of soap in 1 litre of water and spray on affected plants. Find more details here.

Gardening Australia have additional homemade remedies for DIY sprays.

Remember to always test these sprays on a small part of your plant first to ensure they won’t damage your plant.

Natural DIY sprays can control pests in vertical gardens

4.3 Creating Barriers and Traps for Your Vertical Garden:

Physical barriers and traps can be effective ways of preventing pests from accessing your plants or catching pests that are already present. Here’s a little more detail:

1. Copper Tape: 

Snails and slugs are deterred by copper because it generates a tiny electrical charge when they come into contact with it. You can use copper tape (available at garden centres and online) to form a barrier around your planters or individual plants in your vertical garden. When the pests encounter the copper, they’ll retreat, keeping your plants safe.

2. Crushed Eggshells or Diatomaceous Earth

Both crushed eggshells and diatomaceous earth can form an effective barrier against soft-bodied pests like snails and slugs. These materials have sharp edges that cut into the pests’ bodies, deterring them from crossing. Sprinkle around the base of your plants to protect them. If you choose to use diatomaceous earth, be sure to choose food grade and not industrial grade.

3. Netting

Netting can be used to physically exclude pests like birds or larger insects from your plants. This can be especially helpful if you’re growing fruit or vegetables in your vertical garden. Ensure the netting is secured at all sides to prevent pests from getting in.

4. Yellow Sticky Traps

Many pests, including whiteflies, are attracted to the colour yellow. These traps are coated with a sticky substance that traps pests when they land on them. Place these near your plants to trap flying pests. Make sure to replace them when they become full or covered in dust.

5. Pheromone Traps

These traps contain a scent that is irresistible to certain types of pests. For example, codling moth traps contain a pheromone that attracts male moths, preventing them from mating and reducing the population. These can be useful in more severe or specific pest situations.

Remember, these methods can be useful in controlling pests, but they work best when combined with other methods of pest control like attracting beneficial insects, using companion planting, and maintaining good garden hygiene. With a bit of research, you will find a huge range of organic solutions to pest problems for your vertical garden.

5. Chemical Pest Control in Vertical Gardens: When and How to Use

While natural methods are generally preferable, there may be times when chemical pest control becomes necessary. If pests are numerous or are causing significant damage, or if natural methods have proven ineffective, judicious use of pesticides may be needed.

Use as a Last Resort: Chemicals can have negative impacts on beneficial insects and other wildlife, and some pests can develop resistance to them over time. Use pesticides as a last resort, not your first line of defence.

Choose Targeted Products: When possible, choose products that target specific pests, rather than broad-spectrum pesticides that can harm beneficial insects.

Follow Label Instructions: Always read and follow label instructions to use pesticides safely and effectively. Apply them in the right amounts, at the right times, and in the right conditions to minimise harm to non-target organisms.

Chemical pesticides may be required for vertical gardens

6. Final Thoughts on Controlling Pests is Vertical Gardens

Protecting your vertical garden from pests doesn’t have to involve harsh chemicals or complex procedures. By understanding the pests you’re likely to encounter and using a variety of eco-friendly strategies, you can create a healthy, thriving garden with minimal pest disruptions. The tools are right at your fingertips, from preventive measures and companion planting to homemade pest control sprays. Not only are they better for the environment, but where you are growing food in your garden, you will also have higher quality produce that is better for the health of you and your family.

Remember, the key to effective pest control is understanding the ecosystem within your garden. With patience and regular care, your vertical garden will be not only a green oasis but also a balanced ecosystem that’s naturally resistant to pests. 

7. FAQ’s on Managing Pests in Vertical Gardens

Do vertical gardens experience the same pest issues as traditional gardens, and how does their management differ?

Vertical gardens and traditional gardens can encounter similar types of pests, but the frequency and severity may vary. Due to their elevated nature and often denser planting, vertical gardens can sometimes experience fewer ground-dwelling pests like snails and slugs. However, they might attract more flying pests, such as aphids or whiteflies.

The ease of management can also differ. Vertical gardens often require a more hands-on approach due to the higher plant density and the need to monitor irrigation and nutrient levels closely. However, this also means pests can be noticed and dealt with more promptly. Additionally, because vertical gardens typically have smaller soil volumes, they might recover faster from pest outbreaks when compared to traditional gardens.

Just like in traditional gardening, in vertical gardens, it’s crucial to use a combination of preventive and reactive pest management strategies to keep the ecosystem balanced and healthy.

What are the differences in pest concerns between hydroponic and soil-based vertical gardens?

Hydroponic and soil-based vertical gardens can face different pest challenges. Soil-based gardens can encounter a wider range of pests, including those that live in the soil like certain types of beetles and grubs. On the other hand, hydroponic systems, due to their soilless nature, can largely avoid soil-borne pests.

However, both systems can attract pests that affect the foliage and fruits of plants, like aphids, whiteflies, and certain types of caterpillars.

While hydroponic systems can lessen some pest concerns, they do require careful monitoring of water and nutrient levels, as imbalances can stress plants and make them more susceptible to pests. Both types of gardens can benefit from regular inspections, appropriate preventive measures, and prompt pest management interventions to ensure a healthy, vibrant garden.


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