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Garden Pests

Insects and bugs in the garden are inevitable.  In most cases they have a positive impact by pollinating flowers, decomposing waste and, in the case of beneficial bugs, controlling the numbers of pests and diseases in the garden.  To aim to eliminate all insects from the garden is not only close to impossible but will also lead to more problems than there were to start with.

A well designed garden where plants are healthy because they get the right amount of sunlight, fertiliser and water is much less likely to be affected by pests and diseases.  In a healthy environment the population of beneficial bugs such as hover flies, worms and ladybirds remain high and these control chewing and sap sucking pests thereby keeping their numbers low.   A healthy garden is, in effect, a perfectly balanced mini-ecosystem.  A ladybird will eat up to 500 aphids in a week and their larvae will eat even more!

However, Mother Nature sometimes likes to play tricks on us with occasional dry winters, hot summers, windy days or even hail storms that throw these balanced ecosystems into disarray allowing pests and diseases to get out of hand and making it difficult for the beneficial bugs and bacteria to keep up.  Some gardeners deal with pest outbreaks by using garden insecticides to cover spray everything in their garden and although these will certainly decrease the numbers of pests and diseases, it will also eliminate the good bugs and bacteria that help to maintain the balance.

These extreme measures are not necessary as there are still effective and easy ways to reduce pest numbers allowing time for the beneficial bugs and bacteria to re-build their population and for the balanced eco-system in the garden to return.

Start by ensuring that the plants are in a position that suits them.  Plants that are dealing with weather conditions and elements that they are not designed for will be weak and are then an easy target for pests and diseases.

Just like humans who are more likely to get colds and flu when they are run down, unhealthy plants are more likely to be affected by pests and diseases as well.  Apply fertiliser and mulch and ensure that they are receiving the amount of water that they require taking in the weather conditions of course.  Also, apply liquid seaweed fortnightly which works by thickening the cell walls and strengthening the feeder roots giving the plants a greater barrier against attack.

If pests or diseases are evident, take the time to identify them first before applying products.  If this is difficult, bring a sample of the leaves, flowers or roots into any Better Pets and Gardens and we will be able to assist.  Once the problem is identified, the correct method of control can be worked out.  This will save time, money and disappointment.

When removing damaged foliage, flowers or fruit, always wrap them and place in the bin or destroy them carefully.  If these are placed in the compost or dug into the soil, the problems will continue and probably multiply.

In some cases, the problem may simply be one of garden hygiene or manual control such as squashing or collecting and destroying.  In smaller outbreaks, this can be all that is needed to reduce the numbers of pests and diseases allowing the balance of the garden to re-establish.

If it turns out that spraying is necessary, only spot-spray the plants on which the problem exists as this is all that is necessary to control almost all pests and diseases.  Cover spraying everything in the garden will only cost money and waste time and potentially kill good bugs as well as bad.  Ready-to-use sprays are available in stores making spot-spraying really easy.  And, just to ensure that the breeding process of the pest is completely controlled, spray again 10 to 14 days later.  By breaking the breeding cycle with two sprays, there should be no need for an endless cycle of spraying.

Always cover both the top and the underneath of leaves when spraying since many pests like to shelter from the elements.  Also, spray the leaves, stems and crevices to “run off stage” which simply means to the stage when the liquid begins to drip off the plant.

Watch for and control ants in the garden as they “farm” and care for aphids, mealybug and scale for the sweet honey dew that they excrete.  Controlling ant infestations is an important part of controlling pest problems.

Choose the time that you apply insecticides and fungicides.  Windy days will only result in the spray ending up elsewhere and rain will simply wash it off the leaves.  And, spraying in the middle of a hot summer day could result in the application heating up after it is applied and burning the foliage making the solution worse than the problem.  Where possible, apply these products early in the day before the wind and the heat comes.

Gardening organically simply refers to maintaining the balance in a garden without using chemical fertilisers, insecticides or herbicides.  Organic products have come a long way over the last few years and manufacturers are incorporating biological controls into improved carriers so that these products are effective for a longer period of time.  Some notable examples are insect and mite killers which use a soap based material to suffocate and dry out the insects causing them to die.  Also, a fruit fly control that uses sugar and protein to attract the fly and then naturally occurring bacteria which then kills it.  And of course there are products such as Dipel which is also a naturally occurring bacteria that causes caterpillars to stop eating immediately and then to die within a few days.  These are all very effective, easy to apply and in most cases only affect their targets allowing the good bugs to again increase in population.

Whilst using organic products might be many people’s first choice, the chemically-based garden insecticides that are now on the market are incredibly safe.  Some of these are contact sprays but those used for chewing and sucking insects are generally systemic meaning that the chemical gets into the plant so that it is ingested by the pest as it eats meaning that the gardener doesn’t have to see the pest to be able to control it.

There are strict government controls over what is able to be sold to the home gardener and this in turn helps them to feel safe in the knowledge that what they are using in their family backyard is low-toxic and safe.  Whether applying organic or non-organic products, always read the labels carefully especially taking note of these:

Directions for Use
This will explain how to get the best result from the product.  Read this carefully and take note of any specifications on weather conditions.  Remember that more is not necessarily better.  Making a stronger solution of any garden product will not make it more effective and will only be a waste of money.

Withholding Period
The withholding period relates particularly to edible plants and shows the number of days after application of the product that the fruit, vegetables or leaves can be harvested and is safe for eating by both humans and animals.

Storage and Disposal
All garden products should be kept in a well ventilated area out of direct sunlight and where a use-by date is evident, this should be carefully followed.  Always store garden chemicals, whether organic or otherwise, in a locked area and up high where they are away from curious kids and pets.  No matter how safe a product may seem, it is far better to be safe than sorry.

Safety Directions
Although both organic and garden chemicals are well regulated and very safe, a general level of care is essential.  Each garden product will have specific directions relating to whether gloves, goggles and protective clothing are required.  Remember that rubber gloves and not cloth gloves are necessary for mixing and applying garden products and that clothing and fabric sandshoes may soak up the over-spray as the product is being sprayed.

Pet owners are always concerned about using snail pellets in the garden as dogs (and sometimes cats) have a bad habit of eating anything that looks slightly palatable in the garden.  These days’ snail and slug pellets contain a bittering agent which prevents most cats and dogs from eating them.

But, to be extra safe, try these simple techniques:

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