well, a few words actually…
While pests are always present in my garden, come mid-summer, when the temperatures are at their highest, they seem to be the most prevalent. When I first began gardening, my solution to dealing with pests was to simply purchase a spray, any spray, and douse the infected plant paying little regard (if any) to the pest, the insecticide, or how it should be used.
As I gained experience however, I learned some things about pests and how to keep them at bay.
- Identify your pest. If you aren’t familiar with pest identification contact your local extension agent, take in a sample, and have them help you determine what you are dealing with. As you become familiar with garden insects you will learn that they are grouped according to their mouthparts, (chewing, piercing/sucking, rasping/sucking) there are a number of different ways that a pest will “arrive” (for lack of a better word) at the host, (either by simply flying around looking for food, as eggs laid by a mother moth, or by over wintering in the soil) and that there are specific times during the pest’s life cycle where they cause the most damage to a plant (as a larva and/or as an adult). It really isn’t necessary to know which category of pest, how it got there, or when it will wreak havoc on your plant, but it is important to know which pest you are dealing with because this is how you will choose your weapon.
2. Select the proper insecticide. Insecticides are available in a number of different forms: sprays, soaps, oils, etc. which will help take care of the problem on the surface; or they can be purchased and applied as a granular or liquid systemic which is applied at the base of the plant and taken up through the plant, where the pest snacking on the leaves will die. Remember the technical bit above about different categories and different life cycles of the pest? Specific chemicals are used to combat specific pests and/or at specific times. So:
Do not: go to the hardware store and simply select something off the shelf.
Do: read the label. You will be looking for any or all of the following:
* The active ingredient. This will be a very difficult to pronounce word that will be tempting (for that reason) to overlook. But it is important. Again, how the pest is eating your plant (chewing, rasping, or sucking) and at what stage (kiddo or adult) will help determine specifically how and when it should be managed. For example: Your extension agent will tell you that you will need imidacloprid (You can say it: im-id-uh-clo-prid) to combat the Colorado Potato Beetle but you will not find a bottle marked “Imidacloprid” on the shelf at the hardware store. You will need to unfold that detailed label and read it to locate the active ingredient.
*What pests this insecticide will control. Make sure your pest is listed.
*What plants this insecticide can be used on. The label should list specifically: tomato, cucumber, squash, roses, etc. etc.
*When to use it. Some insecticides are not recommended for use at times of the day when bees are active. Some insecticides should be used when the plant or harvest is at a certain growth stage.
*How to apply, and how often. Some insecticides are only recommended to be applied every so often and only for a certain number of applications during the growing season.
Always, always, always, use according to the instructions on the label. Always.
There are good ways to manage pests. And there are even better ways to manage pests.
I had really wanted to list good ways, better ways, and best ways, but “good” would be starting with what I call conventional chemicals and I really can’t recommend them. If you are growing your own food in order to have healthy stuff on your table, why contaminate it with something you really shouldn’t ingest? You might as well uproot your garden and shop at the store. If on the other hand you don’t grow vegetables and simply grow ornamentals for pleasure, I still don’t recommend the conventional stuff. There are a lot of beneficial insects out there not to mention the bees, which can be harmed by these chemicals. So then:
Good ways: visit your hardware store or local nursery and you will notice an ever widening variety of organic insecticides on the market. These insecticides such as a pyrethrin spray are often naturally occurring substances in nature. Again, if used according to the directions, they are effective. However in my opinion (and this is just my opinion) organic insecticides are like organic sugar. Just because they are preceded by the word “organic” doesn’t necessarily mean that they are completely healthy. Hear me out: I use them myself, but I use them in moderation, and often as a last resort.
Better ways: Here are some ways to control pests without the use of chemicals:
*Pick them off by hand or spray them off with a hose. Yes, this is tedious work, but if you have a small garden this can be manageable.
* Plant pest resistant varieties if they are available. There are tomato varieties for example, that are resistant to nematodes.
* Use companion plants to help deter and confuse pests and attract the beneficial predatory insects. A small companion planting chart is available here. ( I plan to reproduce it as a free printable and some day, after we’ve moved, unpacked, planted my fall garden, and made my curtains, a much larger and more detailed chart will be available for a token amount.)
*Rotate your crops. Those pests that overwinter in the soil will emerge in the spring looking for something to eat. But if you replace their favorite snack (a squash plant) with something they don’t care for (a cabbage) they’ll go elsewhere.
*Keep your plants healthy. A plant is much more prone to pests if it has been weakened by drought or disease.
What are some of the pests you’ve encountered in your garden and what are some ways that you’ve found to be effective in managing them?