Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Coastal and Tropical South
May, 2008
Regional Report

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Junipers turn brown and drop their needles when spider mites strike.

Getting Ahead of Pests

When it is possible to forestall the troublesome insects and mites that can plague our plants, we should. When it's not, we should act wisely: identify the critter and its appropriate control, then read all label instructions, and follow them.

Prevention Strategy
A popular football strategy is called the "prevent defense," and gardeners can adopt a similar approach. Preventing pests begins with choosing plants and varieties better able to withstand our conditions, often native plants and long-time local favorites. It also means getting rid of plants that harbor pests, such as privet (a whitefly haven) and golden euonymus (a good home for scale).

Exclusion Strategy
Exclude pests from entering your garden by creating a nursery space away from other plants to isolate new ones for a week and observing them for any signs of pest activity. Screen boxes and floating row covers are effective at excluding pests from the vegetable garden, including my nemesis, the squash vine borer. Especially effective against spider mite infestations, a spray of water weekly under the leaves keeps those nearly microscopic arachnids from getting a foothold.

Identify the Devils
Too often gardeners misidentify the pest at hand and reach for the wrong control. Aphids and spider mites are piercing and sucking insects, so an insecticide specifically for chewing insects will not work. Mites (related to spiders) can dehydrate whole hedges of vulnerable plants like lantana and junipers. Also in this piercing and sucking category are the lacebugs that stipple azalea leaves and the scale insects that ruin our camellias. Some insecticides work only on chewing insects, such as caterpillars and beetles. Some, such as insecticidal soap, work on both categories of insects. It's important to know what you've got before deciding on which insecticide to use.

Then you may need to choose which formulation to use. Some insecticides come in either a spray or dust form or both. For example, Bt is a predatory bacteria that controls chewing larvae of butterflies and moths such as spring's notorious stinging caterpillars. To reach the larvae while they're still in the oak tree, Bt's spray form is needed. But to control the larvae trying to devour greens in the veggie garden, a dust may be easier to apply. Like most predatory controls, Bt does not work overnight and is best used in combination with any possible physical controls for immediate relief.

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