The Q&A Archives: spraying insecticides on my plants

Question: Hello,
I'm new to gardening and recently had a cottage garden planted in my backyard. It's truly lovely, and I'm trying to learn all I can about my plants. I noticed that some of the leaves have holes in them, my mom says they're being eaten by pests. I bought some insecticide, and have been afraid to use it. I don't want to harm the butterflies and hummingbirds that come into my garden to eat. Will this Otho Max, which is suppose to kill 200 different types of garden pests, harm these other creatures? Thanks for your feedback in advance, sincerely Laura Seltzer

Answer: Congratulations on your first garden! I?m glad to hear you want to learn as much as you can and that you?re becoming a thoughtful steward of nature. Gardens have personalities all their own and rely on you, the gardener, to provide their basic needs in terms of adequate sunshine, moisture and nutrients. While we appreciate gardens for their beauty, insects, birds and other critters appreciate them as sources of food and shelter. In exchange for the sanctuary a garden provides, these creatures work hard to transfer pollen, something a flowering plant relies upon to produce seeds and fruit. There?s a natural balance in a garden, if you allow it to unfold at its own pace. Whenever a population of destructive insects builds, beneficial insects and birds arrive to restore the balance. For instance, if aphids are congregating and feeding on a plant, ladybugs invariably show up to lay their eggs so their offspring will have a ready source of food. If caterpillars are in great numbers, parasitic wasps arrive to eliminate them. As gardeners, we only need to be patient, and to learn to tolerate some leaf damage until the natural balance in our garden is restored. The pesticide you purchased will certainly wipe out the insect pests in your garden, but it will also destroy the beneficials such as ladybugs and honeybees. And, without a variety of creepy, crawly, and flying insects in your garden, birds will go elsewhere to feed, and plants won?t set seed or produce fruit. Although caterpillar feeding can seem destructive to us, those caterpillars are the larvae of butterflies or moths; both welcome in gardens not only for their beauty but for the pollinating services they provide to our plants.

Rather than use a broad-spectrum pesticide to completely wipe out the insect population in your garden, you might want to try botanical ways of reducing plant damage. You can handpick large insects and caterpillars and remove them from your garden, you can hose small insects off your plants, or you can use insect-specific pesticides (such as Insecticidal soap for soft-bodied pests such as aphids; it targets soft-bodied aphids but won?t harm beneficial insects such as ladybugs). There are a number of other ways to reduce insect damage to your plants, all insect specific, so identifying the insect is your first step in controlling future damage, developing a tolerance for plant damage is another step, and using the most effective, least toxic method of insect control is yet another step in growing a beautiful and healthy garden.

To promote a healthy balance in your garden, keep your plants well groomed by removing spent flowers and yellowing leaves, be sure to remove plant debris at the end of the growing season to eliminate potential disease pathogens, water deeply to promote deep rooting so your plants can tolerate dry weather, and regularly hose off or hand pick destructive insects.

Most of all, enjoy your garden!

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