Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Western Mountains and High Plains
August, 2006
Regional Report

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My pet katydid, Pat, takes a break on "froggy." Pat makes noise in the evening by rubbing his wings.

Bug Watching and Sensible Controls

Summer is a time of beauty and wonder in the yard and garden. It is one of the best times to observe nature in action. Having a background in entomology, I enjoy watching the insect life in the landscape. Just this past week, while sitting on the patio, the sounds of nature were most delightful in the evening. With summer's heat, the katydids were singing their songs high in the trees.

While we might take for granted the many insects in the garden, their presence is necessary to keep a balanced ecosystem. Some -- such as praying mantids and lady bug beetles -- are predators of the bad bugs, and others -- such as butterflies -- are taking time to sip nectar from the flowers as they complete their life cycles. Even the damaging bugs are interesting to watch, until they reach a threshold and start to devour our desirable plants. How you decide to control pests is a choice that may impact the garden's ecosystem. A pesticide may kill more than the harmful bugs, it may also eliminate the beneficial insects.

Tried and True Methods
My recommendation for controlling harmful pests in the garden is to use the most noninvasive methods. I like homemade soap sprays and insecticidal soaps. Most soft-bodied insect pests, such as aphids, are easily and quickly controlled by soaps. Just be sure to spray in the coolest part of the day; my preference is very early morning or late evening.

Cultural methods are also very effective but can take a little more time on your part. Take the time to monitor your plants, and when you spot a damaging bug, get out there and get the critter. Handpicking or squashing bugs is a simple way to get the pests while they are on your plant. If you are squeamish about handpicking, hire the neighborhood kids to do the job for you. It provides a good lesson in distinguishing the bad bugs from the good ones.

Biological controls can also be very effective. This is particularly true with the caterpillars that turn into butterflies and moths. A bacterium known as Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) will only target these caterpillars and not pose any harm to other insect species. It's very useful against tomato hornworms and cabbage loopers. Bt can be found in liquid and powder formulations that are easy to apply to the infested plants. Always read and follow the label directions.

Prevention is one of my favorite ways to reduce pest invasions. Keep your garden and landscape plants healthy and vigorous. A healthy plant can tolerate some insect activity, but most importantly, pests prefer to feed on weakened plants. They tend to leave the healthy plants alone, until the pickings get slim. Don't forget to keep weeds from invading the garden. Weeds are a place for pests to hide and multiply.

So keep your garden and landscape clean and your plants healthy. It makes gardening a whole lot more fun.

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