Monthly Archives

July 2016

Protect Pollinators With Safe Pesticide Use

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It’s not often I resort to a toxic chemical to get rid of insect pests in my garden. But when hollyhock weevils showed up again this year, I knew I had to take some drastic action.

These weevils not only eat big gaping holes in the plant’s leaves, they use their long beaks for chewing into the flower buds so they can lay their eggs. Then the grubs feed on the seeds which can spell the end to having hollyhocks in the future.

Last year I spent many summer mornings picking these destructive pests off the plants and crushing them with my fingers. Damaged pods had to go, too.

So at the first sign of weevil damage this season, I decided to bring out the heavy artillery. I spent a lot of time researching pesticides before finding one that would take care of the weevils, but wouldn’t kill beneficial insects, too.

When using pesticides, it’s important to keep pollinators in mind. Bees are especially vulnerable to pesticides, and they need our help to keep their environment (and ours) safe and healthy.

Maintaining a healthy garden is the best way to avoid using pesticides in the first place. Start with clean soil, use adequate amounts of water without overwatering, and destroy unhealthy plants. At the end of the season, clean up garden debris so pests can’t overwinter.

Be observant in the garden and take action as soon as you spot a problem and before it can get worse. Some insect problems can be solved with several days of strong blasts of water from the garden hose.

Another organic method to get rid of insect pests is handpicking them off of plants and dropping them into a paper bag, trapping them with sticky traps or dishes of beer (or yeast-water mixture), or laying out boards for them to hide under at night and removing them the next day.

If pest problems persist, use the least toxic chemicals first, like neem oil, insecticidal soaps and repellants.

When you do decide to use a toxic pesticide, be thoughtful about it. Remember that fewer than 10 percent of insect pests warrant the use of pesticides. Decide if the plant damage is significant enough to call for using a pesticide in the garden.

Don’t grab the first pesticide you see. Read the label carefully to make sure it will treat the insect you’re after without causing harm to other insects or animals.

Follow all label directions precisely and wear the correct safety gear when applying. Use the right amount to spot treat the problem. Avoid indiscriminate spraying of all plants to solve one pest problem.

If spraying, do so at night when bees and other pollinators aren’t active in the garden. And when you’re done, store or dispose of containers properly.

Another method for dealing with insect pests is to take a wait-and-see approach. If you wait before using toxic chemicals, you’ll often see the problem isn’t as bad as you first thought.

Shady Places Are Creative Spaces

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Want to cool off in the garden this summer? Then plant a shade garden. It’s easy to create a shady retreat under tall trees, next to the shady side of the house and garage or to plant a small garden in an underused space.

Some gardeners shun the shade because they think it’s too challenging to plant where the sun doesn’t shine. But there are plenty of opportunities to plant a green and growing garden in the shade. Shade gardening is all about foliage color, shape, size, and texture.

The key to gardening in shade is to carefully match the plants to the site and to each other. A simple combination of hosta plants in different sizes mixed together with colorful impatiens will add depth and color to just about any shady spot.

For a fun take on a kitchen garden, look for plants that are named after favorite foods. Hostas are especially appetizing in a shade garden when they have names like ‘Java’, ‘Cookie Crumbs’, ‘Peanut’ and ‘Squash Casserole’.

Impatiens typically perform well in partial shade with early morning or late afternoon sun. Good colors for shade include deep pink, salmon and violet.

The colorful foliage of coleus plants can add striking texture to the shade garden. New varieties feature bright and novel colors, like burgundy tinged green leaves or multicolored plants with finely textured foliage.

Another simple way to start planting in shade is to plant in different sizes of containers. Mix or match the container materials for added interest and then fill them with an assortment of shade-loving plants. Tall ornamental grasses, daylilies and tuberous begonias all work well together in shade.

In deep shade gardens, fountains, bird baths, statues, urns and tall obelisks add structure and can take up large spaces. If there’s room in your shade garden, a garden bench or table and chairs makes for a cool seating area.

Use groundcovers to provide the finishing touch. Vinca can act as a green carpet with shiny, dense foliage and small lavender or blue flowers. Dead nettle is another groundcover that adds texture to the shade garden with silvery foliage and small flowers.

What else would you add to your shade garden to make it a perfect place to relax this summer?

Summer Pest Watch

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So many insect pests, so little time to crush, drown and destroy them.

July seems to be when insect pests start to show up and cause damage to garden plants. Some damage is simply cosmetic, like holes in leaves, but other insect damage can cause plants to wither and die.

To keep your landscape and garden healthy, spend a little extra time looking for these insects and then take action to control them:

Aphids are small pear-shaped insects that suck sap from plant leaves making them curl. If you see aphids (or groups of ants attracted to aphid infestations) dislodge with a strong stream of water from the hose every few days until they’re gone. Insecticidal soap also works to rid plants of aphids.

Cabbage worms start as little white butterflies that lay eggs. The eggs grow into cabbage caterpillars that attack cabbage leaves. If the eggs are hatching, look for the fat caterpillars under cabbage leaves. Pick by hand and drown in a bucket of soapy water. Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) is a soil bacterium that helps control caterpillars. Apply Bt by shaking the dust over plants.

Flea beetles are tiny insects that eat small holes in leaves. In early spring, row cover cloth can protect young plants, but later in the season white sticky traps do a better job.

Slugs typically show up when conditions are too moist. Check for slugs at night when they’re feeding or look for them early in the morning. Keep soils on the dry side to prevent slugs. Traps of yeast water (or beer) will attract and drown them. Diatomaceous earth sprinkled around plants will also discourage slugs.

Spider mites leave a fine webbing on plants and some speckling on the undersides of leaves. A strong blast of water from the hose can knock them down. Insecticidal soap can also be effective.

Tomato hornworms are large green caterpillars that feed on tomato plants and can strip a plant’s leaves in a day. Take your time to spot these pests because they’re the same color as leaves and stems. Handpick or knock them into a bucket of soapy water or a paper bag for disposal.

Keep checking your vegetable garden, flowering plants, shrubs and trees for signs of insect damage throughout the summer. The sooner you spot a problem, the sooner you can take action to maintain a healthy landscape.