In the Garden:
Southwestern Deserts
September, 2010
Regional Report

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Choose native or well-adapted plants like Yellow Bells (Tecoma stans) for long periods of trouble-free bloom.

Integrated Pest Management Part 2: Cultural Control Methods

As covered in my last report, growing healthy plants is an important part of integrated pest management (IPM) because strong plants are less susceptible to attack by insects and diseases. No attack, no problems! Many gardeners likely implement the following IPM cultural control methods related to plant selection, location and maintenance without even thinking about it as part of an IPM system: these are simply efficient gardening practices for everyone.

Plant Selection
Choose well-adapted plants. Native plants have evolved over generations to grow in a region's soil, sun intensity, rainfall, and temperature extremes. They are also better equipped to repel native insects and diseases.

Choose disease-resistant varieties of vegetables and flowers. Disease-resistant seeds are marked with letters at the end of their names on seed packets. For example, 'Celebrity' VFNT tomato translates as a variety resistant to Verticillium, Fusarium, Nematodes, and Tobacco Mosaic, all problems that can plague tomatoes.

Plant Location
Don't overcrowd plants. Allow space for air circulation and sunlight penetration, which prevents such fungal diseases as powdery mildew.

Rotate where vegetables and flowers are planted each year to prevent crop-specific pests from building up in the soil. Allow at least two years before replanting the same crop. Crop rotation includes members in the same family of plants, such as the gourd family (Cucurbitaceae): cucumbers, gourds, melons, squash and pumpkins.

Plant Maintenance
Do not overwater or underwater. Water stress is one of the most common causes of plant problems. Saturated soil forces out oxygen, which plant roots require. If necessary, increase the time between irrigation to ensure roots don't rot in wet soil. Water deeply to soak the entire root area and leach salts beyond the root zone. A general guideline is that water should soak 1 foot deep for shallow-rooted plants, such as annuals and perennials, 2 feet deep for shrubs, and 3 feet deep for trees.

Apply water directly to the soil. Do not sprinkle from overhead onto the foliage, which encourages fungal diseases.

Spread a layer of organic mulch around the base of plants. Mulch maintains soil moisture, decreases soil temperatures, and inhibits weed germination. As the mulch decomposes, it adds nutrients to the soil.

Fertilize only if needed. Overfertilizing "forces" a plant to grow, which is stressful. An abundance of tender new growth attracts insects such as aphids. Native plants are often adapted to soil conditions and do not require fertilizer. Follow package instructions exactly for application rates and methods.

Pull weeds before they flower and set seed. Pick up fallen fruit and nut hulls, which can harbor pests.

Prune dead, broken, or diseased branches. Always use sharp tools to make a clean cut. Disinfect with rubbing alcohol between plants, or between cuts on the same plant if disease is suspected. Do not use sealants on the cut.

Rake up plant debris at the end of the season to inhibit overwintering pests. Dispose of material with pest or disease problems in the trash, rather than composting.


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