Controlling Common Garden Pests

Throughout summer, keeping our garden plants looking good can be challenging.  Between temperature, moisture, disease, and insects, many things can cause our plants to look unhealthy.  When it comes to insects, it is important for us to be educated on how to handle different insects in our gardens.  Here are a few guidelines to help you with your decisions…

– Not all insects are pests.  Bees, butterflies, ladybugs, and spiders are all good to have around your flowers.  They prey on many of the insects that are listed below.  So if you see one of these, you should be happy instead of looking for a can of insecticide.

– Aphids are small, soft-bodied insects that put their straw-like mouthparts into a plant and suck out plant juices.  They can be almost any color, reproduce quickly, and often feed on soft, green growth.  Ladybugs and several other kinds of insects feed on aphids.  You can treat aphids with insecticidal soap, pyrethrin sprays or dusts.

– Caterpillars will make holes in the leaves or eat the edges of leave. If they’re feeding on your vegetables, make sure that you use a pesticide that is safe for people. You can control caterpillars with Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) since it is safe for humans, pets, and other animals. Neem oil and Sabadilla are two alternatives that are safe to use.

– Slugs and snails aren’t insects, but they will eat all of the leaves off many plants.  They tend to hide during the day making them difficult to detect.  Sprinkling salt on the slugs is effective but it increases soil salinity.  Moles, garter snakes, salamanders, frogs, toads and turtles consume slugs and snails.  You can place a barrier of copper flashing around plants to deter slugs.  Another option is to sprinkle iron phosphate-based baits around plants.

– Spider Mites are tiny arachnids and relatives of spiders and ticks.  They are a mere 1/20 inch long and live in large groups.  Mites can be carried from plant to plant on the wind, and they feed on more than 180 different plant species.  Damage includes mottled, yellow foliage with the leaf undersides and stems covered in fine webbing.  Encourage the presence of beneficial predatory insects by adding lots of flowering herbs and other tiny flowers to the garden.  Some chemical pesticides kill the beneficial insects that keep mite numbers in check, so refrain from spraying whenever possible. If absolutely necessary, effective product controls include horticultural oil and insecticidal soap.

– Japanese beetles cause damage as grubs and adults.  Grubs feed on the roots of turf grass and many ornamentals. Adults feed on more than 300 different landscape plants, and feed heaviest on warm days.  Grubs are most active in the fall and spring.  Adult beetles emerge from in-ground pupation in late June and feed for 30 to 45 days before laying eggs in areas of turf grass.  Japanese beetle traps are usually not effective for pest control, as they tend to attract more beetles than they trap.  A multi-part attack is best.  Start by spraying the affected plants with a pyrethrin-based insecticide or neem at the first sign of attack.  Next step is to pick them off plants with your hands and toss them into a bucket of soapy water. Do it in the morning when the beetles are less alert.  Last, consider applying a product to control the grubs that will turn into next year’s beetles.  There are multiple choices available to accomplish this.  Check with your garden center expert for what is best for your yard.

Remember, not all insects are the “bad guys” in your garden.  There are plenty of good guys out there—including ladybugs, nematodes and lacewings.  You don’t have to rely completely on pesticides to get rid of insect pests.  One of the keys is to naturally attract the beneficial insects to your garden by including a wider variety of the types of plants they like.  The good guys are perfectly happy to work for you, and they work for free!!

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