Gardening Articles: Care :: Pests & Problems

Summer's Bad Guys

by Charlie Nardozzi


A pair of Japanese beetles consider their next move

Since I last reviewed home garden pest control 10 years ago, the philosophy and options have changed dramatically. Today, gardeners realize that a balance of insects, good and bad, is most healthful for both the garden and gardener. For the most part, gone are the days of spraying indiscriminately to eradicate pests. Now, the focus is on good gardening practices, such as soil building and planting a diversity of crops, combined with barriers and traps. If sprays are used, less toxic alternatives are increasingly chosen because these products are easier to apply and are widely available.

We'll start by covering control measures, and recap with a list of the most common garden pests and the most effective controls for them.

Safest Controls

Pest control begins with sound gardening practices. Building healthy soil, choosing resistant varieties, cleaning the garden in fall, rotating crops, and timing planting to miss the most harmful stage of the pest all reduce problems. There is also my favorite control for small gardens: handpicking. You'll be amazed how, by visiting the garden frequently to squish eggs, larvae, and adults, you can single-handedly (no pun intended) reduce a pest population. Controlling insects, such as cucumber beetles, leafhoppers, and aphids, that transmit viruses also helps reduce spread of these diseases.

The next level of control involves barriers such as row covers and traps.

If you need to spray, choose one that attacks specific pests. Many of the biological sprays work for these. If a biological spray for a particular pest isn't available, try soaps and oil. Finally, if no other alternative is available, spray neem or pyrethrins. A combination of controls, such as trapping and spraying with soap, is also effective.

Cultural Practices

Sound gardening practices will help next year's garden and help to reduce this year's pest problems.

Garden cleanup. Remove and destroy infected fruits and flowers during the growing season. This can also reduce levels of pests such as plum curculio this season, lessening the damage to the crop both this year and the next.

Resistant plants. Choose the right varieties to reduce certain pest problems. For example, grow Siberian iris, which resists iris borer, instead of bearded iris; or try butternut squash, which resists squash vine borer, instead of other varieties.

Early planting. Time vegetable plantings to avoid pest populations and reduce the need for controls. Planting early avoids the height of infestation of insects such as Mexican bean beetle, leafhopper, and squash vine borer.

Water spray. A jet of water from a garden hose will often dislodge aphids and spider mites. Once off the plant, they tend not to climb back on.

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