In the Garden:
Lower South
April, 2004
Regional Report

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This lady beetle larva is finishing off the last of an aphid infestation. If you spray and kill this beneficial, you'll inherit its job.

Gardening Amidst the Creepy Crawlies

BUGS!!! Just the mention of the word sends some folks running for their lives and others running for a can of insecticide. While some prefer the organic approach, others are willing to use nuclear warfare if necessary just so long as "the bug dies!"

While I'll grant you southern gardeners that an insect doing the backstroke in your mint julep is alarming, I assure you the bug is in more distress than you! We live in an environment full of bugs, and it is unrealistic to think it can be made "bug free" without serious consequences.

Various insects seem to proliferate in our landscapes and gardens at different seasons of the year. This spring, oak leafroller caterpillars have alarmed residents by hanging from their silken threads beneath our shade trees. Common mid- to late-season insects are bark lice with their silky strands like "angel hair" covering the bark of trees, and the fall webworms that devour the foliage. Then there are the fascinating hickory-horned devils that really catch the attention of southern gardeners in the fall.

Gardeners vary in their tolerance to insects. Some could care less and would only be moved to take action if a platoon of army ants began to dig up and carry away entire trees and bushes. Others move immediately to chemical warfare at the first sight of anything with more than four legs. Misunderstanding and misinformation result in wasted time and money, and unnecessary risk to people, pets, and the environment.

The other day one of my daughters and a friend showed up holding some insects they had captured in their bare hands. Totally unsqueamish, they were displaying their prizes for all to see. To them bugs are fascinating mini-robots. They are aware of the few "don’t touch" creepy crawlies, but know the rest are not to be feared.

Most Bugs Aren't a Problem
There are a number of misconceptions when it comes to controlling insects around the home and landscape. For some gardeners, the only good bug is a dead bug! Actually less than 3 percent of all insects are considered pests. The rest are either beneficial or harmless. Insects are part of a complex and interrelated ecosystem. Get help in identifying the suspect.

Plants Can Tolerate Some Damage
Another misconception is that the presence of any bug on a plant warrants a spray application. Even the presence of a true pest is not enough to warrant taking action to control it. There exists a "threshold level" for various plants and pests at which control is deemed necessary.

Minor damage usually does not affect production (fruits and vegetables) or ornamental value. Plants were living with these pests long before we decided to make a garden out of the place and showed up with our spray solutions.

Choose Least-Toxic Controls
Pest control products differ in terms of toxicity to people, beneficial insects, and various pests. For best results, and to protect yourself, select a product that's appropriate for the pest and the plant being attacked. Your county or parish extension office and local nursery professionals are two sources of help.

Remember that your garden also is a zoo. Identifying insects properly and using the least toxic strategies to manage pests can help you get the most out of your landscape and garden while reducing the risks to you and your environment. A spray applied to destroy a pest may well be destroying beneficials as well. Remember that when you kill a beneficial insect you inherit its job.


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