Q: How can I keep my garden safe from pests during the summer months? Dennis N.
A: These may be the dog days of summer, but creepy crawlies have their multiple eyes on your garden delectables. Pests, in a myriad of shapes, sizes and colors, remain ambitious despite the heat and should not be underestimated; they are capable of mass destruction in short order.
Before you get out your pesticide or shotgun, however, you must determine the type of insect you are dealing with. Plant inspection is possibly the best defense a gardener has when it comes to intercepting major pest problems. Examine the top and underside of leaves, the surrounding soil and all other parts that have damage. Many problems can be averted by simply hand picking pests. Observe your garden beyond plant level. Flying creatures, such as moths and butterflies, have a life cycle. Those fluttery beasts, though attractive, will be laying eggs and subsequently hatching into hungry caterpillars.
Aphids, whiteflies, scales, cicadas and mealybugs are sucking insects that latch onto the leafy portion of ornamentals, fruit and nut crops and almost anything in between. Distorted, curled or yellowed leaves are suspicious signs. Most of these insect culprits exude a sticky, honeydew-type substance that attracts ants.
To make matters worse, they may carry plant viruses. Aphids multiply rapidly, but are easily destroyed by a sharp blast of water. Insecticidal soap or horticultural oil sprayed on the underside of plant leaves, has some effect on whiteflies.
The indecisive earwig can be destructive or beneficial depending on the circumstances. When inspecting your plants, keep both possibilities in mind.
When controlling pests, it is best to start with the least invasive method of eradication. Hand-picking is an option when populations are low. Soft-bodied insects typically dont survive a shot of water.
Remember, pests dont take a summer break. Provide your plants with nutrient rich soil and adequate irrigation so that they are healthy enough to sustain a mild pest ambushing. Remember to always read the label on any pesticide product and follow the instructions. For more information on pest control methods visit www.ipm.ucdavis.edu.