Saturday, July 16, 2011

Pest Control Tips

Now that the weather is nice and warm and plants are growing like crazy, the pest population is growing as well and feasting on our beautiful gardens.  It's ok to have some pest damage, remember without bugs there are no birds, usually nature will balance itself!  But when the pests are out of balance, here are some tips for keeping pests under control.

  • Identify the Pest - Know what pest is causing the damage in order to utilize an appropriate solution.
  • Practice 'Integrated Pest Management' (IPM) - An intimidating title that simply means use the least toxic method of controlling pests such as:  
  • Cultural Controls - Use disease resistant varieties of plants, water and fertilize appropriately, rotate crops, space plants for good air circulation, and use good sanitary practices (clean tools, weed, pick up fallen fruit)
  • Mechanical Controls - 'Squish, Squash, Squirt!'  Use a strong jet of water from the hose to knock pests such as aphids off plants.  Hand pick larger pests such as snails and tomato hornworms and squash (or throw in trash), use barriers such as row covers, or traps such as yellow sticky traps or snail traps.
  • Least Toxic Pesticides - When cultural and mechanical controls aren't enough to keep the pest population and damage at an acceptable level, use the least toxic pesticide possible for the specific pest to be controlled.  Some examples are:
    • Insecticidal soap and oils:  Work by smothering or dessicating soft bodied insects and mites.
    • Pyrethrins and nicotinoids:  Are natural botanical insecticides from the pyrethrum daisy and tobacco plants.
    • Microbial insecticides:  Are microorganisms that cause disease in insects.  Bt, bacillus thuringiensis, is commonly available and is used to control caterpillar damage.  Spinosad is a natural fermentation product of bacteria which is also used against caterpillars and thrips and has a low mammalian toxicity.
  • FOLLOW DIRECTIONS - Whenever using a pesticide product, it's extremely important to follow the product directions.  More is NOT better.  Buying a product premixed and ready to spray is advisable.

For more pest control advice visit the University of California's IPM website.

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