Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Coastal and Tropical South
March, 2007
Regional Report

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Use great care when deciding which insects to control and which to encourage.

Bugging Out

Precious pollinators and other beneficial insects are vulnerable to many of the controls commonly used with voracious insect pests. Your job is to create a balanced environment, where the troublemakers are few but the "good guys" can flourish. Luckily, strategies exist that can make that task simpler. Think "prevent and exclude" to reduce the need for general garden insecticide sprays and dusts.

Avoiding Trouble
When caterpillar larvae dine, leaves get chewed and punctured stems can collapse. The tomato hornworm, corn earworm, cabbageworm, and squash vine borer can easily destroy our food plants. Once we see the damage, it's too late; mother moth laid eggs weeks before. But we can deter or distract her. Boxes or hoops to span rows may seem like a large investment, but these bottomless frames hold window screen or floating row cover above the plants. They act like a cloak of invisibility to moths flying around in search of a home. When plants are too tall to cover for the entire season, like corn, early planting can help avoid the earworm. In coastal areas, you're running out of time!

Planning Ahead
Recently I had the opportunity to hear an organic farmer talk about his 3-acre truck farm. His primary method of pest control consists of rotation and interplanting to "prevent and exclude" many common pests. By dividing his planted area into four subdivisions, he uses a different section of soil for each season's garden. In between, he sows a cover crop (or living mulch) on the section just cultivated.

Cover crops help prevent erosion and conserve moisture in the soil, then nourish the soil when you dig them in. Your garden may be too small for this practice, but if you move the tomatoes from one place to another to avoid nematodes, you're halfway there. Just plant a cover crop in the spot where you grew tomatoes last year.

Interplanting is something you already do when you plant basil and tomatoes together, or when you plant crowder peas to climb up the corn stalks after they're harvested. Instead of a row of squash, plant blocks next time, with beans in between, to keep the insects guessing.

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