Pest Control

With the growing evidence that chemical pesticides are harmful to human health, many gardeners are looking for smart, organic solutions for pest control. Most problem pests can be controlled naturally, eliminating the need for toxic pesticides or harmful chemicals. We provide the information – and experience – to help you maintain a beautiful, chemical-free yard and garden that’s healthy for you, your family and the environment.

Got bugs? Visit our Pest Problem Solver for help!

Good Bugs in Your Garden

Ladybug LarvaePredators, Parasites and Pollinators — oh my!

Attracting or importing beneficial insects — “the good bugs” — into your yard or garden is a great way to reduce the number of detrimental insect pests without having to resort to toxic pesticides or insecticides.

There are four categories of beneficial insects:

Predators are generally larger than their prey and consume many pest insects throughout their lifetime. They are often considered general feeders, which means that they eat a variety of insect species. Unfortunately, some predators, like the voracious praying mantis, will eat just about anything in its path, including other beneficial insects. Both immature and adult predatory insects consume garden pests and some feed on pollen and nectar at various stages of their life-cycle. (The picture here shows a ladybug larvae feeding on aphids.) (more…)

Bacillus thuringiensis Products

Bacillus thuringiensisBacillus thuringiensis (Bt) is a natural occurring, soil-borne bacteria that has been used since the 1950s for natural insect control. It consists of a spore, which gives it persistence, and a protein crystal within the spore, which is toxic. That toxic protein differs, depending on the subspecies of Bt producing it, yielding a variance of Bt toxic to different insect species (or none at all). When the bacteria is consumed by certain insects, the toxic crystal is released in the insects highly alkaline gut, blocking the system which protects the pest’s stomach from its own digestive juices. The stomach is penetrated, and the insect dies by poisoning from the stomach contents and the spores themselves. This same mechanism is what makes Bt harmless to birds, fish and mammals whose acidic gut conditions negate the bacteria’s affect.

Recently, Bt has been questioned because of its inclusion in Monsanto’s genetically modified corn and cotton. The difference between the Bt used by organic farmers around the world and that genetically inserted into Monsanto’s corn is dramatic. Naturally occurring Bt is contained within the bacterium. The Bt gene inserted into genetically-modified corn contains only the final toxin without its containment. (more…)

Potted Plant Pests

Potted Plant PestsUnlike plants grown in the ground, potted plants enjoy a relatively pest-free environment. In most cases, they are potted in quality soils or soilless mixes, and are often grown closer at hand, so they are inspected more frequently. As a result, they tend to have fewer problems with insects and disease.

With that said, there’s no predicting what could attack your plants. Just because they are confined to pots does not mean that they will be excluded from pest problems. Insects can creep into any garden and fungal spores are present in the air at all times. While the chances of potted plant pests are much smaller with container gardens, you still need to take precautions. (more…)

Fall Garden Cleanup

Garden Clean UpStop Next Season’s Plant Disease… Now!

Of all the mistakes I’ve made growing vegetables — and I’ve made plenty — the biggest (or right up there) has to do with not taking the time for a good fall garden cleanup. I can barely bring myself to tell you.

One year, like most years, a fall frost hit the garden and I didn’t bother to get it covered. It withered squash vines and wilted the late plantings of lettuce and spinach. I should have been out there right away, removing all the dead vines, pulling the spinach (some of the lettuce made it back) and not given disease a chance to get a hold in the weakened plants. But I didn’t. And then, after a wet snow, I just let it all go, not putting the garden to bed until well into November. I didn’t know it yet, but by then my lack of action guaranteed that my spinach and chard crops for the next year would be compromised and keeping my squash vines growing would become a battle. (more…)

Pesticides in Bird Food?

Bird FeederAccording to Reuters, Scotts Miracle-Gro company will be fined $12.5 million for illegally including pesticides in bird food products. The company pleaded guilty in February to the charge that it violated the federal law governing the use of pesticides. The fine includes $2 million that will be spent on “environmental projects.” The penalties, according to the Justice Department, are the largest in the history of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act. A company spokesman says Scotts has taken full responsibility.

Truth-Out.org reports that the company voluntarily recalled products that it treated with pesticides. Why Scotts treated the bird seed with the knowledge that those pesticides were toxic to birds, fish and other wildlife is the central question. Scotts says that the pesticides were added to the bird seed to prevent insect infestations. The Audubon Society reports that Scotts falsified pesticide registration documents and distributed pesticides with misleading and unapproved labels. Scotts reportedly sold more than 70 million units of the bird food, branded as Morning Song and Country Pride, between 2005 and 2008. (more…)

Talkin’ Potato Blight

Harvesting PotatoesAugust is often the make or break month for potatoes. No doubt, if you’ve planted a few rows (or a lot) of potatoes, you’ve already dug a few plants for new potatoes which are usually ready two weeks or so after the plants blossom. But if you’re waiting until the first frost so you’ll have big tasty tubers for winter storage, now’s the time to be on alert. Warms days with high consistent humidity encourage blight, as does wet weather. The problem with potato blight is that once it starts, it’s nearly impossible to make it disappear completely. Still there are things you can do to prevent and impede potato disease. The ultimate goal is to keep them from the tubers. (more…)

Getting Tough With Powdery Mildew

Powdery MildewOrganic solutions for getting rid of powdery mildew on plants.

It’s the time of year when powdery mildew raises in its dusty, unattractive and growth-sapping cloud. It’s the most common and widespread of fungal diseases, attacking both fruit trees, ornamentals and vegetable plants. Controlling it presents special challenges to the organic gardener. And this summer’s weather patterns — warm and dry — tend to favor its spread.

With its patchy, gray, talcum-like dust that covers leaves and stem, powdery mildew is easy to spot. Detecting it early is one of the many reasons to regularly give your plants close inspection. Once it turns black, which signifies that it’s starting to fruit, you’ll have real problems controlling it from spreading. While the fungal threads that make up powdery mildew stay on a plant’s surface and aren’t as harmful as some other diseases, they can retard growth and affect flavor, especially on fruits. Controlling powdery mildew starts in the spring by choosing plant varieties that are resistant to the fungus. Give your mildew-susceptible plants plenty of room so that air can circulate between leaves and stems. (more…)

Ladybugs and Aphids

Organic Pest ControlThese warm and often humid days of mid-summer bring the first signs of an unsightly pest: aphids. Aphids don’t do much damage when there’s only a few around. It takes clusters of them — and there usually are by the time they’re found — to make leaves curl and yellow as they deposit their sticky “honeydew” made from the moisture taken from the plants on stems and on the underside of leaves. If left untouched, this substance turns black with the presence of sooty mold fungus. Roses are often the victim of aphid infestations.

The more damage you have, the harder it is to control aphids because they hide inside curling leaves. Often, the presence of ants is an indicator of an aphid problem. Nasturtiums are a known aphid favorite. Think of them as an early-warning device. If you’ve previously had aphids in or around your garden, you should check them frequently. Aphids are wind-borne creatures. If your garden is large, check the upwind section most carefully. (more…)

Protect With Row Covers

Row CoversThere’s a sinking feeling that comes when you spot the first cabbage moth hovering over your garden. Traditional gardeners use some of the worst chemical sprays to control them. And that doesn’t always work, especially as the larvae eating your plants mature. (Personally, I’d rather eat worms than pesticides.) Organic gardeners hunt for egg clusters on the underside of leaves and smash them, pluck the worms that they find and even snatch the egg-laying moths right out of the air (okay, I was successful doing that once). Other natural solutions include using Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) a bacteria that attacks certain larvae. Or you can try Neem oil, which works on a variety of pests and fungal problems. (more…)

Weed This…

Pulling WeedsWhile you’re savoring the second most enjoyable time in the garden — planting season (harvesting would be our number one) — here’s a reminder about the least enjoyable garden practice: Weeding. The earlier you start, the better. In fact, good garden weeding practice involves getting rid of them before weeds even make themselves seen.

Over at Mort Mather’s “Happy Blog” there’s a post on the ten day weeding program. Basically, Mather suggests cultivating between rows and around plants 10 days after planting. He suggests you’ll get weeds when they’re just threads, before they start sending out spreading roots. Repeat the process again in another ten days. He claims to get 80% of the weeds using this technique. What he doesn’t say is where certain gardeners, like myself, will find the discipline to cultivate 10 days after each planting (or the smarts to keep count). (more…)

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