Despite our efforts to prevent pests from getting into the garden, they do fly, crawl, walk and blow into the area. Before trying to eradicate every last one, look around to
see if they are really damaging the landscape. After all, a mature plant from which you have been harvesting may be able to tolerate a bit of leaf damage while a seedling cannot.
There are thousands of insect species. Some of these are very desirable. We try to provide habitats to attract butterflies, yet the larvae (aka caterpillars) are as voracious as those of other insects. There are beneficial insects that feed on the pest insects. For instance, lacewings eat thrips and ladybugs love aphids. For this reason, I like to try to control the bad guys without resorting to chemical warfare.
I scout for Japanese beetles early in the morning while they are torpid and knock them into a can of water laced with Dawn dish detergent. Not one can swim. One year I got really lucky. A neighbor five houses down the block put up a pheromone trap to attack them. Turned out another neighbor four houses from him put up another. Wow, those traps were full and I had fewer Japanese beetles than usual.
A healthy, vigorous plant is better able to withstand a bit of pest damage so keep yours in the pink: Use fertilizer as directed. Irrigate at the root zone in the morning so that foliage dries and is less susceptible to disease. Remove diseased leaves, bag them and toss in the garbage. A strong spray of water can remove spider mites and aphids.
Some gardeners prefer to use natural products to control pests thinking that they are less harmful to the environment. Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) is bacteria that attacks the larvae of cabbage worm, tomato hornworm and potato beetle. It is nontoxic to mammals. Neem oil is derived from a tree and is effective against many pests while having low toxicity. Saucers of beer are effective in controlling slugs. Insecticidal soaps are effective against soft-bodied insects.
(Top photos: insect pests. Right: This golden gal may be helping control the insect peril!)
Still, there are situations when a gardener chooses to use a pesticide. Pesticides destroy pests, control their activity or prevent them from causing damage. It is critical to identify the pest in order to select a product that will control it. Read the label before purchasing the pesticide to be certain it is effective against the pest you wish to control.
All pesticides sold in the United States are regulated by the EPA. No product can be sold or distributed without EPA approval. The approval process may take eight to 10 years and costs tens of millions of dollars. Only one 20,000 chemicals make it from lab to production! In addition, states may regulate which products are sold within their boundaries.
Once approved, the product receives a registration number. This appears on the label, which is a legal document. Any use inconsistent with the label is a violation of federal law.
Next week we will look at the label of these products in detail.
Master gardener Ann Bartlett prefers not to spray pesticides in her garden. But that doesn't mean she's fixin' to let the terrorists win. Read next week's installment to see Ann get out the big guns...