Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Western Mountains and High Plains
May, 2011
Regional Report

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This praying mantis patiently awaits a tasty meal of invaders on the rose bush.

Going Green with Pest Control

Are aphids are attacking your snowball bush, spider mites got the best of your miniature roses, and psyllids draining the life out of the tomato plants? Before reaching for the pesticide bottle and drenching the plants, consider using the garden hose and a strong stream of water to wash off the pests. If that doesn't work, turn to a horticultural soap spray. Many of the soft-bodied insects including aphids, mealy bugs, psyllids and even spider mites are susceptible to soap sprays. Controlling pests with more environmentally-friendly methods may mean repeated applications, but most of our pollinators, including honeybees and bumblebees, and predatory insects will not be harmed.

One of my nemeses in the flower garden is earwigs. Besides trapping between folds of moistened newspaper, I like to scatter diatomaceous earth (DE) at the base of plants to discourage these pests. DE is a natural pesticide that has thousands of sharp edges to discourage and destroy the creepy crawlers, including slugs and pillbugs. DE is made from ground up shells of tiny sea fossils and is non-hazardous to humans and animals. But since it is a very fine dust, you may want to wear a dust mask and protective eye wear when spreading.

Predatory insects have always been around, yet we often destroy them when applying pesticides to rid the garden of bugs. In many situations, the activities of these beneficial insects can greatly limit or prevent pest problems. It is important to learn to recognize these beneficial insects so they are conserved and appreciated.

Lady beetles, often called lady bugs, are one of the most familiar. The adults are easy to recognize as the beetles are round to oval in shape and brightly colored orange with black spots. It is the larvae that look much different and often killed. Lady bug larvae are elongated, usually dark colored and flecked with yellow or orange. Both adults and larvae feed on large numbers of small, soft-bodied insects such as aphids. The small black lady beetles (Stethorus) are very effective in controlling spider mites, while others specialize in devouring scale insects. Lady bugs can quickly control many developing pest problems as temperatures warm up.

Praying mantis are predators that feed on almost any insects of the right size. They have one generation per year, with the winter stages spent as eggs within a protective pod. The Chinese mantid is often available for sale at garden outlets.

These are but a few of beneficial insects to encourage to visit your garden. There are many other beneficial insects and arthropods worth welcoming, including hunting wasps predatory mites, spiders, ground beetles, green lacewings , and syrphid flies.

Considering alternatives to commercial pesticides may take more thought and study, but it is well worth the effort to keep our environment safe and green.

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