An Ounce of Prevention (Pest Prevention Series, Part I)

June 1, 2019

In June our warm-season annuals, whether flowers or vegetables, have been planted and we hope Mother Nature does not throw us a curveball in the form of hailstones, torrential wind or rain! But whatever the weather, gardeners everywhere are preparing to do battle with pesky pest problems. The first step in this ongoing conflict is to know the enemy.


What is a pest? In our green world, it can be anything that competes for food, water and sunlight or injures plants, people or pets. It can be microscopic, spreading or causing diseases. Weeds, that is, plants growing in the wrong place, are a constant factor. Insects, ticks, mites and spiders cause plenty of problems, as do mollusks (think slugs and snails) and vertebrates including Bambi and his forest friends.


(Photo: Black spot on my roses!)


With such a variety of potential problems, gardeners need to think strategically. Take steps to prevent the problem. Lime-sulfur spray may be used to kill overwintering spores on woody plants. Dormant oil sprays may be used to kill mites, scale and immature insects in the same time frame. Crop rotation limits the spread of disease and reduces insect pests by depriving them of susceptible host plants. Fence Bambi out of the vegetable garden. Use disease-resistant cultivars. More come on the market every year.

 (Photo: Weeds before I pulled them!)


Remove weeds from the garden before they go to seed. Mulch to prevent seeds blown in by the wind or deposited by birds from reaching the soil. Apply pre-emergent herbicide to prevent residual weed seed from sprouting. But read the label carefully before application. Not all products can be used around plants to be used as food. This includes fruits, vegetables, herbs and edible flowers.



Home gardens are often small enough for labor-intensive methods to be effective. Row covers protect squash and cucumbers from squash vine borers and marauding caterpillars. Collars made of plastic or cardboard placed around tomato plants and embedded in the soil protect from cutworms. Covering ripening berries protects them from birds.


If slugs are a persistent problem, spread diatomaceous earth around the affected plants. This nontoxic product is made of tiny marine organisms called diatoms. The sharp edges of the dust particles irritate soft-bodied insects as well as slugs and snails, causing them to dehydrate and die. 


(Photo: The weeds are winning!)


Over the years, I have found that Fido and Felix deter rabbits from making a home in the yard.  Felix may also control the vole population.


Given the number of possible pest problems, preventing them all is an unrealistic goal. It is realistic to work toward having a tolerable level of pest populations which would have minimal impact on garden plants. 


Master gardener Ann Bartlett patrols the ornamental beds around her home with a certain fatalistic calm after all these years of battling the slings, slugs, aphids and arrows of outrageous fortune. C'est la guerre, cheri!


This June, Ann shares her accumulated wisdom in this month-long series.

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