Pest Control Tips for New Gardeners.
Many people who began gardening between 1940 and 1970 believed spraying everything in the garden with poisons was the only way to cope with plant pests and disease.
Since then, many gardeners have found that this cure can be worse than the problem. Pests and plant diseases are primarily a nuisance where one crop is planted in a large area. A pest that attacks only wheat or peaches would find a paradise in a field of wheat or a grove of peaches. Massive destruction by insects, mites, or diseases seldom happens in a garden with a wide variety of plants.
PREVENTIVE GARDEN MAINTENANCE
You can keep your garden relatively healthy without using chemical sprays by taking these two preliminary measures: Keep the soil in good shape by adding soil amendments and nutrients and remove any plant that is badly damaged by pests, or that is wilted or moldy. If you want to replace a damaged plant with a similar kind, ask your nurseryman about disease or pest-resistant varieties.
Once you have established a healthy garden, keep it clean. Rake up any debris such as fallen leaves and fruit. Dig mulches into the ground each year, and replace them with fresh layers. Wash off foliage regularly (use a hose nozzle to direct the spray of water) to keep it free of dust and pests. Remove any spent flowers and foliage.
Whenever you’re out in the garden, be sure to look for pests under a few leaves of each plant. If you squash or rub them off as soon as you notice them, you may not need a pesticide later on. And since many pests are seasonal, they may disappear by themselves if you can keep them under control for the time being. If a hard squirt of water from a hose won’t wash away a few aphids, rub them off by hand. You can squash caterpillars and beetles or you can put them in a paper bag and burn or discard it.
To catch slugs and snails, place a few boards here and there, then turn them over every morning and remove the pests. Some creatures do more good than harm. Avoid destroying those that eat other garden pests. Remember that a poison spray will kill the good bugs along with the bad ones. You’ll learn to recognize ladybugs and their larvae, lacewings and their larvae, baby mantises (more numerous than adults), predatory wasps, insect-eating birds, and other tiny pest destroyers. Even though earwigs occasionally attack seedlings, flowers, or fruit, they will also eat regiments of aphids.
Before you aim a deadly spray at an infested plant, look around for helpful insects. If you see some, wait several days before spraying to give them a chance to eat their fill of unwanted pests.
PROTECTION WITHOUT POISON
If you can’t control garden pests by washing or rubbing them off, squashing them, or letting their natural enemies do the job, don’t give up hope. There are alternatives which are deadly to pests yet harmless to other life. For sedentary bugs like aphids, make a strong solution of soap (not detergent) and water using 3 tablespoons of soap flakes in a gallon of tepid water. Using your tank or hose end sprayer, cover the infested plant with suds, wait a few hours, and then wash the plant off with plain water. Mineral oil sprays—sold in nurseries—do a similar job.
If plant seedlings are being chewed, try putting a jar or can over them at sundown and removing it in the morning. Push the jar into the soil a bit to prevent nocturnal chewers from getting under the rim. Don’t forget to remove the covers in the morning or your seedlings will cook in the trapped heat under the cover.Fruit trees are sometimes attacked by such climbing insects as ants and earwigs. Most nurseries carry a sticky adhesive material that you paint around the base of the tree trunk. The pests will stick to the painted area on their way up the tree. You’ll need to apply a new layer of material every few weeks because it gradually loses its stickiness as it collects dust or chaff. Check by touching it with your fingers whenever you pass by.
Poisonous sprays are a touchy subject with some people, since the reports in books and newspapers about ecological damage or human illness that seems to be traceable to insecticide. However, most nurseries carry a number of spray materials which kill insects and disease organisms but are harmless to most other creatures. Some of these products contain sulfur or copper. Others, such as pyrethrurn or rotenone, are made from the leaves and roots of certain plants. Limit your use of any of these sprays to afflicted plants only. The small portable pressurized tank sprayer is the easiest to use. It holds just enough mixture for small jobs, so you’re never tempted to spray other plants with leftover spray.
A final note: the loss of a few leaves or flowers does little real harm to a plant. Many lovely and productive gardens contain plants with chewed leaves and less than perfect flowers, but these imperfections are overlooked if the garden is healthy in all other respects.
Killing the killers
Chemical controls should be handled and stored carefully. Before using one, read the instructions on the label. If you’re spraying vegetables, the instructions will suggest how long to wait before harvest (guard against cutting these time periods short). When you’re finished spraying, thoroughly wash your equipment, your hands and other exposed skin, and any clothing that came into direct contact with the spray. Then, for the safety of children and animals, store the chemical under lock and key. Make sure that any measuring spoons you use to measure quantity are stored the same way so they will not be used accidentally in the household.
To avoid mixing too much spray, use a 1-quart, graduated measuring cup rather than a 1-gallon measure so that you can easily calculate the amount you need. Remember that three teaspoons equal one tablespoon.
Tank sprayers are easier to handle (and less wasteful) than the extremely fast hose-end sprayers. If you intend to use any chemical that kills vegetation, such as weed oil, use a separate sprayer for it.
When you have finished spraying, be sure to wash and rinse sprayers and sprayer parts. Before you spray another time, rinse and wipe off all parts. A bit of chaff, a speck of dirt, or a little dried-up spray material can block tiny holes and give you hours of trouble and frustration.
Below are some suggestions for using other pest controls.
Adhesive barriers. Check their stickiness frequently, since long exposure to the atmosphere can make them ineffective.
Hand methods. Gloves are recommended for those who dislike the feel of squashing unwanted pests. If you can’t squash a bug even with gloves on, put your collection of pests in a paper bag and burn it. Another method is to put the pests in a jar and fill it with water; cap it overnight and dump it the next day.
Still another way to deal with pests is to place a few twists of newspaper in the garden in the evening; it will collect those countless earwigs who like to push into tiny spaces. This collection should be burned.
Because slugs and snails like dampness and protection from sun, a shingle or board placed in the garden will attract them. You then have the option of squashing them or putting them into a bag, adding salt, and discarding. Whichever method you choose, be sure to look out for their eggs which look like small clusters of pearls.
Certain underground pests such as cutworms and various grubs may suddenly appear when you work the soil, but it’s easy to chop them up. Spadework, too, is sometimes an effective way to control ants. If you see an anthill, use a spade to turn over the soil, hoping that one spadeful will kill the queen. Without her, the workers will die.
To control flies, you can use the swatter—still a popular and effective tool. Sticky paper is another well- known method; it does a good job in sheds, lathhouses and other out-of-the-way corners. The paper comes in a roll inside a cardboard cylinder. Unroll it and pin it in a dark corner near the ceiling. Flies are attracted by its odor. Once the surface is well covered with dead flies, you throw the strip away and hang up a new one.
Dusting sulfur and lime sulfur. Before using these controls, carefully read the instructions on the label to make sure you are using them in the right season.
Water jet. Select a hose nozzle that adjusts for different sprays or a pistol type that delivers sudden, sharp blasts of water. Then look for your prey. Aphids are green or dark-colored and collect mainly on young growth and buds. Where they are very dense, put your hand behind the bud or branch as you hose them off; a little rubbing with your fingers will also help. Once on the ground, aphids rarely return to the plants.
Spittle bugs generally appear in spring and hide in little blobs of the foam they create. A direct hit from the water jet will knock them to the ground where they quickly die.
Spider mites are tiny red bugs that resemble spiders and live in a type of a web under leaves. If the underside of a leaf looks dusty or clouded, the mites may already be there. They love dust but hate dampness. Turn your hose nozzle up and spray upward from the base of the plant to clean the underside of the foliage.
If birch trees or other plants feel sticky, aphids are probably at work dripping honeydew. Wash the plant off thoroughly or a nasty black fungus will grow on it.
Metaldehyde. This chemical is a relative of wood alcohol (methanol). Slugs and snails love it for some reason, even though it’s fatal. It comes in liquid or bait form. The bait consists of meal or pellets. Although some manufacturers add other poison to the bait, it’s not necessary to make the chemical effective. Try to get metaldehyde mixed with bran; it is not harmful to birds and pets. Put the bait in a little dish under a garden shed or put it in a paper plate under a porch or deck. Snails or slugs often die on the spot. If so, just discard the plate or rinse it off over the trash pile or compost heap.
Other sprays. When you need a poisonous spray, use it carefully and make it count. Spray only those plants that are suffering from insect or mite damage. First rinse the plants off with water. Then spray the leaves, starting at the bottom of the plant and working upward, Finish by spraying the upper surfaces of the leaves.
Contact poisons. Pyrethrum, rotenone, ryania, sabadilla, and nicotine sulfate are all contact poisons—they must come into direct contact with the insect to kill it. These poisons are made from plant parts. Pyrethrum comes from a kind of chrysanthemum. Rotenone comes from the cube plant and is a ketone, like the flavor in whiskey. The nicotine in nicotine sulfate comes from tobacco.
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