Over the years I have answered thousands of gardening questions. I enjoy helping people out with their "plant issues" and I know that they appreciate the advice.
Most of the questions are pretty straightforward and revolve around insect and disease pests.
Once I identify a particular plant pest for a gardener, the question that often follows shortly after is, "How do I get rid of them?" Now this is a pretty logical question to ask but "getting rid of them" is really not an option. The correct strategy is not so much getting "rid" of, but rather figuring out how to control them.
One of the biggest differences between home gardens and commercial horticultural businesses (other than size, of course!) are the strategies for dealing with pests. Commercial horticulture deals with pest problems proactively while home garden pests are, largely, treated reactively.
In commercial horticultural, each operation has a list of pests that are virtually guaranteed to show up each year. A particular crop can be kept pest free in a particular growing but every grower knows full well that the battle will begin again the following year.
In home gardens, being proactive is just as critical to success as it is in commercial horticulture, but I know that it is often tough for gardeners to achieve. Recognizing some pests is relatively easy while others are darn near impossible to identify without a lot of training and the right diagnostic equipment. Still, getting on the problem early by monitoring the plants is the key to success.
So, here is my shortlist for having a garden full of healthy "pest controlled" plants:
Start with healthy plants
Sounds simple, but it’s tough to turn around a plant that has pests on it already. It’s always a lot easier to keep clean plants clean rather than to try and clean up "dirty" plants…and a lot cheaper!
Provide a healthy growing environment for each plant
Plants can’t run away but must stand and fight pests. An excellent growing environment means that plants can produce stronger structures and chemicals to fight-off pests.
Ensure that pests are correctly identified
Applying a fungicide for insect control or an insecticide for a disease simply won’t work. I can’t begin to count the number of times that a disease has been mistaken for an insect or vise versa.
Monitor your plants regularly for pests
If you inspect your plants every few days, you can often catch pests before their populations explode. Let’s face it, if you find 10 aphids on your plant and get 90% control with a pest control product you are left with 1 aphid. If your plant has 10,000 aphids and you achieve 90% control, that still leaves 1000 aphids. Battles can be lost before they even start.
Use only registered pest control products
I know that the web offers a myriad of concoctions that will control pests. But whether they are so called "organic" or "chemical" remember that are a number of things to consider before applying either. Approved pest control products have been thoroughly tested and approved by Health Canada. Correct rates, pests controlled and minimum number of days from application to harvest are just some of the critical information on each registered pest control product. Each label must have a PCP (Pest Control Products Act) number on the label that assures the end user that it has been government tested and approved. Look for it on the label and don’t use anything with a PCP number.
Know when to concede
I’ve seen many examples of dead and dying trees that should be removed because they are severely decayed from fungal diseases. If a tree is precariously leaning over a house or playground it should be removed because of safety concerns. Sometimes, with the correct pruning tools, you can remove a diseased limb or tree but if you cannot prune or remove the tree safely, call in a professional arborist.