We have quickly moved from “planting the garden” mode to “protecting the garden” mode in these past few days. Last weekend was perfect for diseases to develop, and it was excellent weather for slugs, as well.
When it comes to pest control in the garden, the first thing you have to do is be vigilant. Inspect your plants on a regular basis so that if you do find something wrong, you can identify it before it becomes a major program.
The next step (before you spray anything!) is to identify the problem. I really get concerned when I get calls about plant problems and the person says, “I have sprayed it (the plant) with everything and nothing seems to work!”
Don’t even think about spraying your plant problems away until you identify the cause. Even then, the next step is to determine if “spraying” is even necessary.
In many cases, the pest is not on the plant, or the disease has already presented itself and it’s too late to spray. Save yourself time and money before using a pesticide. On top of that, don’t introduce a pesticide into the environment if it’s not necessary.
This approach is called integrated pest management or IPM. IPM requires that you identify the pest and then determine your options. These options are mechanical, biological or chemical, with chemical being the last choice.
Mechanical options vary, depending upon the pest. For instance, cultivation of weeds is considered mechanical removal. Using a herbicide would be a chemical option.
Mechanical options for an insect can be handpicking and squashing or covering the crop with a row cover to prevent the insect from laying eggs.
In my garden, I picked the asparagus beetles off the plant and squashed them. We are still harvesting asparagus, and I don’t want to spray. I will spray the plants after the picking season ends in order to completely eradicate this beetle.
I am going to use row covers on my Brussels sprouts to prevent the cabbage moths from laying eggs.
IPM also requires that you determine your tolerance and the plant’s tolerance for a particular pest. For instance, I tolerate Japanese beetle damage on my linden trees and don’t bother spraying. However, I don’t tolerate Japanese beetles feeding on my hibiscus, so I take steps to manage this pest, including the use of pesticides.
Biological controls include allowing the lady beetle and lacewing larvae and adults clean the aphids off of the plant. When I have tomato hornworms feeding on my tomatoes, I look for the white cocoons hitchhiking on their backs and let them be. This is a parasitic wasp that lays its eggs in the stomach of the caterpillar and kills it! Yea!
Finally, when it comes to the point that I have decided to use chemicals (which is rare in my garden), I determine exactly what to use and the timing. And then of course, I follow label directions to a T.