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Midwest Gardening: Pest Control the Easy Way

Brought to you by Lowe's Creative Ideas

Integrated management techniques help solve pest problems of all kinds. Pick off caterpillars, invite birds into your garden, and get to know dog walkers.

Sidewalk gardens need integrated pest management for good health.

By Marty Ross

Bugs don’t really bother me or my garden. As an organic gardener I know healthy plants are the best defenses against bugs and blights of all descriptions.

Although I like to experiment with new plants every year, I try to stick with trees, shrubs, and flowers that flourish in the climate and conditions in my garden. I plant them where they receive the sun or shade they need, grouping plants with similar needs. I mulch to help keep weeds under control and conserve soil moisture.

Pests have damaged this cabbage head.

I also practice integrated pest management (IPM), which relies on environmentally sensitive solutions. The basic IPM technique is to identify pests properly and decide whether they pose a threat. If I spot a few caterpillars on the broccoli or the roses, I pick them off. It’s an easy and effective technique that does not require an investment in pesticides or applicators, and takes only a few minutes.

The birds are crucial to my pest-control strategy. My garden is full of trees, shrubs, and flowers that shelter birds and produce seeds and berries they like. Those seeds and berries encourage birds to stick around and help keep bad bugs in check. The birds also keep the garden lively: I love to watch the nuthatches make their way around the girth of the maple tree, and I whistle at the cardinals whenever I’m outside.

Dog walkers: Be good neighbors.

The only real pests around my garden are the four-legged kind -- the dogs who take their owners on daily walks down my block. Among the dogs there seems to be some misunderstanding about the purpose of the boxwoods on either side of the sidewalk. Boxwoods are beautiful, low-maintenance shrubs. (‘Green Velvet’ is one of my favorite hardy Midwestern cultivars.) Dog urine causes boxwood leaves to turn brown and die; you can clip out dead areas, but pruning is not a very satisfactory solution.

To redirect the dogs and keep my boxwoods healthy, I practice IPM. When a dog with a bad habit walks by, I go out on my porch. Most dog owners will not let their pooches pee on my shrubs while I’m watching. If necessary I ask the dog’s owner if the couple could please redirect their efforts somewhere else. This is not my favorite way to meet people but, like picking caterpillars off the broccoli, it is effective pest control. Once you explain that it’s bad for the bushes, dog owners are usually very polite, and the dogs wag their tails and move on down the block.