Getting Rid Of Garden Pests

They're out there, right now, and they are hungry! It's dinner time in the garden! You aren't the only one who enjoys your yard. Millions of insects do too, only they see it as a gigantic feast. Some of these bugs are real bad guys, as they go about eating holes in the leaves, destroying flower buds, and spreading disease. We wage a continual battle against these pests, and often the best we can hope for is just to break even. However, other insects are actually beneficial. They pollinate flowers, add life and beauty to the garden by their mere presence, and prey on the nasty ones. So we can't just indiscriminately spray pesticides to eliminate the entire insect population. Instead, a more specific approach is called for.

Lets meet some of these bad guys. As you get to know them, you'll have a better idea of how to keep their impact to a minimum. First on the roster is the ubiquitous little aphid. Aphids come in a variety of colors from white to pale green to black, and these hungry little beasties can attack just about anything that grows. Not only that, but aphids have a protection racket going with the ants! The ants enjoy the honeydew the aphids secrete, and in exchange, protect the aphids from their natural enemies. The nice thing (and the ONLY nice thing!) about aphids is that they are easy to combat, without using any toxic chemicals. First, you eliminate the ants so that they can't protect the aphids, by applying a sticky barrier around the base of your trees and shrubs. Then wash the ants AND the aphids off your plants with a stream of water from a garden hose. This simple treatment, repeated 2 or 3 times a week, can keep your plants nearly aphid-free. For a serious infestation, spray your plants with insecticidal soap, but be sure to read, and follow, label directions. This battle with the aphids won't be over until it freezes (and some kinds of aphids even have fluffy little coats and stay active all winter!), so continue to check your plants for aphids on a weekly basis.

Spider mites are another garden scourge. They seem to be particularly fond of junipers and arborvitae, although they can infest other plants, especially marigolds. These insects are about the size of a grain of salt, and their color varies depending upon the species and their diet. Since they are so tiny, they are hard to see with the naked eye. The best way to detect them is to hold a piece of paper under a branch you fear may be infested, and then to shake the branch. If you notice moving salt grains on the paper, then it's spider mites! Spider mites feed on the underside of leaves, sucking out the plant juices, and causing the leaves to turn yellow and the plant to wilt. The plant looks rather tired and discouraged, as if it is just too much trouble to grow. Since spider mites like hot, dry weather (just what we have every summer), you can discourage them with a daily (morning) misting with the garden hose. Insecticidal soap works well too. Spider mites are rapidly becoming resistant to most chemical pesticides, which also kill off their natural predators. As a result, the spider mite population often increases, rather than declines, following an application of insecticide. You"re really better off sticking to water and insecticidal soaps.

The last bad guy I want to introduce you to this month is the hungry thrip. These fast-moving little fellows attack flower buds, especially white and yellow ones, turning them into stunted, brown objects which may not open. If you suspect thrips, use the paper trick again; shake the affected flower over a piece of white paper. What will appear are dark fecal pellets and dried plant tissue which are evidence of the thrips voracious eating habits. Most of the time, you'll see moving specks, too. These are the actual insects. Although a regular morning misting will help to keep their numbers down, a severe infestation of thrips calls for the big guns. Pyrethrum or rotenone are effective organic controls, or you can use a chemical pesticide containing acephate. The last is a systemic insecticide, so don't use it on or near any plants you are growing for food. It is also toxic to birds, bees, butterflies, and other beneficial insects, so be very, very careful! By the way, acephate may damage poplar, cottonwood, willow, redbud, and some maple trees, also. When using any kind of garden chemical, even something as seemingly innocuous as insecticide soap, be sure that you read and follow all the directions and precautions on the label.

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