Since I was a kid, I was the go to guy in our family for figuring out what was wrong with a particular plant or, for that matter, a whole field of plants.
I’ve seen flea beetles and cutworms destroy huge fields of cabbage and lettuce in just a couple of days, and I’ve also seen equally huge fields of vegetables that weren’t killed by pests but rather by application of the wrong pest control product.
Thankfully, in home gardens, the scale of the pest problems is many orders of magnitude smaller than commercial horticulture businesses. But whether it’s massive fields or small gardens, pests are still pests and must be controlled.
During my time studying pests both in the field and at university, and then, subsequently, becoming a certified pesticide applicator provided me with a more thorough understanding of pests and their interaction with plants.
So to pass on some of the things that I’ve learned during my tenure as the ‘bug guy’ at our greenhouses, here are a few of my tips for helping you to keep the pests under control in your yard:
Start with clean plants and try to keep them clean
Plants that are already infested with plant pests are tough to get back on track. It’s never a good bargain to buy a $10 plant and spend $40 for pest control products
Correctly identify the pest
Insect pests like Scarlet lily beetles are devastating on a wide range of lily species, but many gardeners misidentify the insect as a lady beetle. Often by the time the insect has been correctly identified the lily beetle has levelled the lily patch.
Choose the correct pest control product
BTK is an excellent biological control (bacteria) for caterpillar pests (i.e. cabbage worms and forest tent caterpillars) but has no affect on sawfly larvae even though they look very similar to caterpillars. Similarly, while insecticidal soaps are a good choice for soft-bodied aphids, they work rather poorly on hard-shelled beetles. Matching the pest control product to the pest is critical for success.
Always be proactive with pest control
Don’t wait until you have a major infestation before treatment. Start treatments early in the crop’s life cycle before the pest populations explode. Killing 99% of a 1,000,000 aphids still leaves 10,000 aphids that will return the population to pre-treatment numbers in very short order.
Don’t forget about ‘exclusion’ for controlling pests!
Lightweight, spun fabrics (i.e. ‘Crop Cover’) provide an excellent physical barrier to insects like moths, flea beetles and aphids thus preventing them from attacking many of your vegetable and fruit crops. The cover still allows excellent penetration of sunlight.
Talk to pest control experts before applying pest control products
Grabbing a bottle of pesticide and applying it to your plants without understanding what the pesticide is, what it controls, and what plants it can be applied to, is a recipe for disaster.