In the Garden:
Lower South
June, 2010
Regional Report

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These cilantro blooms provide a drink of nectar for this beneficial hover fly adult.

More Poison-Free Pest Control

Last time I began a two part series on Poison-Free Pest Control with a discussion on the reasons for permitting a few pests in our gardens, some techniques for excluding pests from plants and the role that beneficial insects play in doing most of our pest control for us. I used the acronym PESTS for Permit a few pests, Exclude pests, and Support beneficial insects.

The first step in enlisting the help of beneficial insects toward our gardening goals is to not destroy them with broad spectrum pest control sprays. Remember that when you kill a beneficial insect, you inherit its job!

Pests show up because our plants (their food) are there. Beneficial insects show up because the pests are there. If you want to maintain a balance, you need some pests around. Natural enemies of our garden pests hang out and lay eggs where there is a source of food for their young. No pests; no beneficials.

Secondly, several types of beneficial insects are attracted to gardens with a source of pollen and nectar for the adults. Plants with umbrella-like seed heads such as cilantro (coriander), yarrow, dill and fennel are part of a beneficial insect-friendly habitat. So are small daisy-like blooms including chamomile, copper canyon daisy, Blackfoot daisy, feverfew and fall aster. Also include a few blooming herbs like thyme, chives, basil and trailing rosemary.

Toss out infested plants
Sanitation (removing insect and disease infested plant material) is a very important way to minimize pest problems. Pick up and discard fallen peach, nectarine and plum fruit, which may harbor a plum curculio larvae about to emerge to continue its life cycle.

When plants are heavily infested with pests it may be best to go ahead and plow them under or pull them up to throw away. Trying to save them with sprays takes time and money and may not provide acceptable results anyway. Remember there is no shame in plowing under a "failed" attempt and starting over.

Soft sprays are best
There are many spray options that are less toxic and also less disruptive to the balance of nature in our gardens and landscapes than broad spectrum pesticides. Just plain water itself is a good choice. A strong spray of water will dislodge many tiny pests such as aphids and mites quite effectively.

Various commercial products are available for dislodging pests and some gardeners have created homemade versions of these devices that also work well. The key is to produce a fast moving, fine mist of water, not to simply drench them with a large volume of water.

You can also choose from a number of effective pesticides that have low toxicity for humans or pets. Insecticidal soap and horticultural oil are two prime examples. While they can harm beneficial insects if applied to them when they are larvae, these products break down quickly. If you determine that beneficials are not present helping to reduce pest populations on a plant, you can make a directed spray to the plant to minimize pest populations. By the time an oil or soap spray dries there is no longer any danger to beneficials or newly arriving pests either.

This season be proactive and take the P.E.S.T.S. steps for a beautiful and bountiful garden without poisons.


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