A GROWING CONCERN: Time to guard against pests in the garden

As spring slowly gives way to the approaching summer season (today is the first day of late, late spring; summer officially starts here on Thursday, June 21, at 3:07 a.m.) most plants in your yard are growing rapidly.

Accompanying this rapid plant growth is an accelerated development of diseases and insects. Not only do your fast-growing plants provide for excellent habitat and greatly increased food supply, but temperatures are on the rise; that provides improved breeding conditions.

You have only to walk around the yard and closely examine the flora to see the evidence.

Glistening slime trails weave between your half-eaten dahlias and vegetables.

Black spot, rust and powdery mildew infect your roses, lilacs and geraniums.

All your plants begin to show chewed-out leaves as tent caterpillars leave their home base and start to strike out on their own.

Root weevils and certain nematodes eat up hair roots and such valuable plants as your magnificent rhodies, while aphids or white flies suck the life blood out of your lilies, fuchsias or tomatoes.

What is a passionate gardener to do?

Sound cultural practices are your best and most effective way to control pestilence in the garden.

These practices do not include using chemicals. They employ the most fundamental advantages: harmony and natural balance.

Before I outline these beneficial production methods, let’s dwell for a moment on the huge benefit of using natural, and not chemicals, controls.

Pesticides, herbicides and fungicides are great if you’re into total eradication, because that’s what they do — destroy.

But they are unbiased for the most part, making no distinction between extremely beneficial, good bugs or fungi and the bad plant destroying bugs.

They work very well as an extremely short-sighted solution.

The horrendous problem, however, is that they devastate the intricate and highly woven fabric in the web of life.

Make no mistake, fungi, worms, numerous microbes, ladybugs, bees and butterflies are all crucial to a healthy soil and garden.

Yet you destroy many of these organisms as you apply systemics, fungicides, and weed-and-feeds along with the variety of insecticides misted all over the garden.

Ironically, using these indiscriminate chemical controls can allow worse infestations later because nature abhors a vacuum.

This vacuum in the death zone quickly is filled with much faster-reproducing aphids, disease or mold, and without any natural controls to check their advance.

This can prompt you to spray again; thus a downward spiral of chemical dependency is established.

With this in mind, let’s focus on sound cultural practices.

First and foremost is mechanical removal or, in plant language, throw that plant away.

That’s right. If you are really in tune with your yard, then you see the first signs of a problem and remove it accordingly.

When I see a sick plant, may times it is pulled out, thrown away or removed to a quarantine area away from the other plants.

Most infestation, be it mold, bugs or disease, starts in a very small, localized area or on a single plant.

Prompt removal can immediately remove 80 to 90 percent or more of the problem.

Just yesterday I encountered a beautiful dahlia (my favorite plant) that along with numerous buds, was covered on top with aphids.

By pruning down the 24-inch tall plant down to 4 to 5 inches above ground and stripping off most of the leaves, 98 percent of the problem was removed.

A strong blast of water sprayed on the plant every day for the next week will take care of the rest (insecticidal soap also works great).

Next are the leaves. Trim away all old leaves and large foliage to ground level so air can flow freely.

Keeping the air flowing is very important to the control of disease.

Watering is the next biggie in our battle.

Plants do their best when soil is wet at dawn, and insects and disease do their worst when the soil and plants are dry at night.

Water early in the morning and, if possible, do not water overhead onto many plants (especially roses, tomatoes, geraniums); this can be the lion’s share of how disease spreads from one plant to another.

Deadhead all your flowers.

By now you should know just how succulents and attractive flower tissue is to bugs and disease. Removing all old flowers and damaged plant parts eliminates most of the prime breeding grounds to future problems.

Finally, keep your soil fertile, loose, light, properly watered and fed.

A healthy plant in its prime as far less likely to succumb to disease.


Andrew May is an ornamental horticulturist who dreams of having Clallam and Jefferson counties nationally recognized as “Flower Peninsula USA.” Send him questions c/o Peninsula Daily News, P.O. Box 1330, Port Angeles, WA 98362, or email [email protected] (subject line: Andrew May).

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