The most important step in pest management is to maintain healthy soil. Good, healthy soil produces healthy plants which are better able to withstand plant diseases and insect damage. Practicing “green landscaping”, including efficient watering, planting, soil building, and reduction of rainfall runoff, will significantly reduce your pest problems.
Before considering what control measure to use, identify what is harming your plants. Insect infestations and diseases are often not the main problem, but rather a symptom of stress caused by poor growing conditions such as sterile or compacted soils, nutrient deficiencies, too much or too little moisture, or a poorly adapted plant for the climate or the particular landscape conditions. Simply correcting the stressful condition may control the pest and prevent further infestations.
Of the millions of kinds of insects in the world, less than 2 percent are harmful. Beneficial insects such as ground beetles, ladybugs, fireflies, green lacewings, praying mantis, spiders, and wasps keep harmful insects from devouring your plants. They also pollinate your plants and decompose organic matter. Chemicals harm these beneficial insects more than the unwanted pests.
Don’t run for a can of pesticide when you could pick off a few pests by hand. A blast of water can strip aphids from your plants. Use pruning shears to remove tent caterpillars in the trees. Pruning and removing diseased leaves, branches, or whole plants can stop the spread of disease. Use the least-disruptive and least-polluting protections against a pest before resorting to stronger controls.
Herbal pest repellants include garlic and hot-pepper sprays, which can be made by processing these herbs with water in a blender and straining out the pulp. You can add a few drops of soap, which is toxic to soft-bodied insects.
Traps work by attracting a target pest into a container from which it cannot escape. Place traps away from your garden so the pests don’t eat your plants before they are caught. Electric “bug zappers” destroy many more beneficial insects than harmful ones. Use traps that attract only the insects that are causing you problems.
The least-polluting chemical controls are botanical pesticides. All pesticides are toxic to some living things and often indirectly affect other living things. The botanicals are derived directly from plants, and a few are even more toxic than some synthetics, but break down much faster than synthetics, and are not known to accumulate in the food chain as synthetics are.
Mineral pesticides are dormant and horticultural oils and powdered diatomaceous earth, which are lox-toxicity and safe to use.
Synthetic pesticides are chemical compounds invented in a laboratory. Some are more toxic than others, some are longer-lasting than others, and some release compounds that are more toxic than the original pesticides when they break down in the environment. Some accumulate in the environment and cause harm far removed from the original site or purpose of application. Others do not break down for long periods of time and remain in the soil or water.
Create a haven for beneficial insects in your yard.
They will come to the landscape if they are provided the following:
– Water – this could be as small as a bowl or bird bath or as large as a pond, just as long as it is available and filled with fresh water all year. Be sure to keep the water fresh; stagnant water attracts mosquitoes and other insect pests.
– Shelter – grow a variety of plants, including annual flowers, perennial flowers, bulbs, grasses, small shrubs, large shrubs, and deciduous and evergreen trees. The beneficial insects will find their niches.
– Food – pollen and nectar sustain some insect predators when insects are not available to eat. Birds and squirrels enjoy fruits, grain, and seeds, especially during the winter. Once beneficial insects, birds, and animals get to know a particular landscape as a place to find food all year, they will come back.