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Be Ready For Garden Pests

Preventive measures now stop insect pests and disease problems later.

Aphid Plant PestsWhen it comes to garden pests, it pays to be proactive rather than reactive. This is a central tenet of Integrated Pest Management (IPM). Being prepared for pests and doing everything you can in advance to discourage them saves not only damage to your plants but cuts the chances that you’ll be forced to use pest-killing methods, often chemical, that you’d rather not.

What can you do in the spring to prevent pest problems down the road? Lot’s. Discouraging pests by knowing the conditions they favor, say lots of moisture, and then denying them is a start. Veteran gardeners know what pests to expect in their area on the specific crops they plant. If you’re new to gardening, you might want to talk to consult information on the specific crops you intend to plant. Then there are local experts at reputable garden and nursery stores that will know about the pests that are common in your locale. The more information you have, the better.

Available from Planet Natural, trichogramma wasps are tiny moth egg parasites that seek out and destroy garden pests that are leaf eaters in their larval stage. Examples of such insects include corn earworm, cutworm, cabbage looper, armyworm and codling moth caterpillar.

You can start even as your garden is buried under snow. Companion planting with the specific aim of repelling pests of the crops you’ll be growing should be part of every garden plan.

Even if you’re garden hasn’t gone in yet, you can gather the products you’ll anticipate you need. Some of the first-line defenses of organic garden and IPM programs, things like insecticidal soaps, neem oil, and citrus sprays for your ornamentals should be in every gardener’s shed.

And if you’ve already set out your cabbage or broccoli transplants, you’ll want to protect them with floating row covers, especially if temperatures have been warm enough to encourage night-flying moths. The sooner you do this the better.

Some pests favor spring and start their nefarious destruction before your vegetables go in. Snails and slugs take advantage of cool, moist weather to migrate into your landscape beds and perennial flower patches. When your lettuce comes up, they’ll be there, too.

We’ve always loved using beer as bait and setting jar lids of it around our snail-targeted plants. This was probably the first “organic” pest remedy we learned. It came from grandpa who limited himself to half a beer a day (don’t ask why but it had something to do with grandma) who would take us out in the morning to find a half-dozen or so of the slime-leaving slugs drowned in a mayonnaise lid. “They died happy,’ grandpa always said.

Over the years we’ve learned that fruit juices (grape is best) can be substituted and that leaving a juicy orange rind around will also attract them. In the morning, they’ve crawled under the rind where they stay, easily discarded.

Eliminating debris and keeping clean growing spaces not only denies slugs a place to breed and hide out, it also keeps other insect pests who over winter and lay eggs in such garden trash. The time to do this, of course, is in the fall as you put your garden to bed. If you suspect insect pests have survived winter in any mulch you might have laid — and even if you don’t — it’s a good idea to pull the mulch you spread in the fall away from plants and growing areas.

We’ve heard a lot about using coffee grounds as a deterrent for slugs and other pests but haven’t found that it was overly effective. (Coffee grounds can encourage worms when added to compost and it’s also good spread around azaleas, rhododendrons, and other acid loving plants.)

Kills slugs and snails… naturally! Sluggo Organic Bait contains a unique blend of iron phosphate — an organic compound that breaks down into fertilizer. Controls snails and slugs, yet is non-toxic to wildlife, people and pets. Simply scatter around or near plants to be protected.

A barrier of non-toxic diatomaceous earth, especially when used in dry conditions, can discourage slugs from reaching your greens. One problem: too much moisture and slugs, with help from their natural secretions, slide right over it with little trouble. Once worms and aphids strike, diatomaceous earth becomes effective sprinkled on infested part of the plant. It’s a good thing to have at the ready.

Copper strips and screens, which generate a small charge in combination with the slug’s secretions, can work like an electric fence, keeping the slimy criminals at bay. Once installed, be sure to check your plants to hand pick any of the marauders that might have already made it to your plant.

Spring is also a good time to start releasing beneficial insects. Plan well ahead if you want voracious praying mantises patrolling your produce. They need at least a month or more of warm temperatures before they emerge from their egg cases. Predatory mites are also a good early release. Release them in stages, as you can, just ahead of any anticipated appearance of spider mites or other sap suckers.

Predators including ladybugs and lacewings should be released once infestations have been spotted. If there’s nothing for them to eat, they may head for buggier pastures.

Another preventive measure is the use of homemade repellents that use natural ingredients — garlic, hot chile, herb-tea infusions and products like vinegar and baking soda — to discourage aphids, moths, and other pests before they get established. You can use these when conditions, say warm nights, have you anticipating trouble from arriving moths and others. But the best time to use these is at these first sign of trouble. If pest numbers don’t tumble after a spraying, it’s time to move onto insecticidal soaps (when it comes to aphids) or neem oil (for mites and other long-term problems).

Vigilance is the most important part of any IPM program. Examine your garden carefully, every day if you can, for signs of pests. As you do, you’re picking snails off nearby plants and monitoring any remedies you’ve employed.

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Eric Vinje founded Planet Natural with his father Wayne in 1991, originally running it as a grasshopper bait mail-order business out of a garage.

Eric is now retired, but is still a renowned gardener known for his expertise in composting, organic gardening and pest control, utilizing pesticide-free options, such as beneficial insects.

Eric believes when you do something good for the environment, the effects will benefit generations to come.

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