By Mary Glazer
My garden pests range from aphids to slugs to armadillos. I don’t mind a rare visitor nibbling occasionally on a plant as it passes through my yard. But before the situation turns into a full-blown all-you-can-eat buffet, I get proactive in an earth-friendly way.
Entomologists have identified 1 million insects worldwide; a small proportion cause problems for the average home gardener. These include aphids, grubs, leaf-footed bugs, whiteflies and tobacco hornworms (moth larvae).
However, your actions against these scourges can affect the greater population. What would I do without bees to pollinate my flowers, ground dwellers aerating my soil, or butterflies to delight my senses?
Biodiversity is the key to controlling insect pests. In my yard that translates to growing a wide variety of trees, bushes and flowers. Veggie gardeners can take a clue from the farmers who use trap crops, planting a row or a perimeter area with plants the insects prefer to eat, drawing them away from the main crop.
Routine scouting is critical. I look closely at my plants, including the undersides of leaves, then I take immediate action.
This is not the time for procrastination. It’s easy to pull off one or two bugs or destroy a few leaves. As with everything else in life, I know taking care of small problems can prevent bigger problems down the road.
When handpicking isn’t enough, or nighttime visitors are a problem, biocontrols, such as beneficial insects or diatomaceous earth, are good choices. Ladybugs, lacewings, parasitizing wasps and the big-eyed bug are natural predators, which dine on insect invaders that include aphids, thrips and whiteflies. Diatomaceous earth, the fossilized remains of hard-shell algae with abrasive characteristics, is effective for soft-bodied insects such as slugs or snails. But if you’re into butterfly gardening, like me, don’t overlook that butterfly caterpillars also are soft-body insects.
I’m aware that overfertilizing can result in excessive plant growth, which attracts more creepy-crawlies and thus the critters that feed on them. Armadillos don’t have a vendetta against flowerbeds or veggie gardens. They do, however, appreciate the loosened soil, except for those pesky new seedlings in their way. Hungry armadillos search for grubs (beetle larvae in the soil), cockroaches, spiders and earthworms. If reducing the amount of fertilizer and fencing doesn’t work, check with your local animal control or wildlife office for laws in your area concerning trapping and relocating any animal. Nature has a delicate balance.