Will Petunias Really Help Eliminate Unwanted Pests In The Garden?

Will Petunias Really Help Eliminate Unwanted Pests In The Garden?

Petunias are a popular choice for ornamental gardens due to their beauty and resilience. They can tolerate full sun or partial shade and can thrive in various soil types. Unlike other plants, petunias don’t require frequent watering. While some people believe that petunias can eliminate pests, it’s important to note that they can only repel them.

However, petunias can be more effective when planted with other predator-attracting plants. This combination can help keep pests at bay and contribute to a healthy garden ecosystem.

Petunias can repel pests but not eliminate them

Bed of red petunias

Anatoliy Berislavskiy/Shutterstock

Petunias, including mosquitoes, aphids, asparagus beetles, and Mexican bean beetles repel many insects. Some plants just don’t smell good to insects, so they stay away. However, a plant sitting in soil isn’t always that effective at warding off bugs. Crushing plants and rubbing them on surfaces like clothing or even your skin is far more effective since breaking the leaves releases the scent. The potent scent is what keeps insects away, so the stronger the smell you can get, the better.

Just because crushed leaves are more effective doesn’t mean you shouldn’t plant petunias at all. Plant beds full of petunias for the strongest effect, as just a few plants here and there likely won’t cut it. If you plant many petunias in your garden, you’re more likely to damage leaves by stepping on them, placing gardening tools on them, or having animals walk on them, which can release their scent and keep bugs away. According to a study in the Malaria Journal, many plants have a natural repellent against plant-eating insects, like nitrogen compounds and others, that are released when leaves are damaged. While you may not want to intentionally harm your petunias, planting many of them around your garden will give them plenty of chances to release chemicals that keep pests away.

Petunias attract predators

ladybug eating aphids

Protasov AN/Shutterstock

Perhaps the best way petunias can keep pests at bay is by attracting the predators that eat them. This is a gardening method often used in companion planting, where you plant something that attracts predators that will eat the pests nearby. If you see ladybugs and lacewings buzzing around your petunias, you can celebrate the fact that you have aphid eaters on the premises!

Sometimes, petunias can attract predators in a seemingly counterproductive way: attracting pests. Aphids love petunias, which is another reason aphid eaters will stop by. If aphids often target other plants you love more than petunias, use the petunias as a trap crop. Let the aphids and other critters eat them up, and soon, you’ll have predators in the area going crazy over the buffet they just found. Since petunias are so easy to care for, they make great trap-cropping plants because you don’t need to give them special attention.

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Dr Heidi Parkes

By Dr Heidi Parkes

Senior Information Extension Officer QLD Dept of Agriculture & Fisheries.