GARDEN COLUMN: Spring is here and so are the insects | Home & Garden

KATE COPSEY T&D Garden columnist

The sudden drop in temperature this week gives us an opportunity to get back into the garden and do some spring cleaning. Most perennials will be up and growing while the shrubs and trees will start new growth. Spring is also the time for insects, and a morning or evening stroll around the garden will allow you to find and treat problems before they become bigger problems.

Last week I found the first wave of aphids on my fruit trees that needed treatment, but one tree in particular seems to have aphids that I’m still having trouble with. Aphids are small insects that burrow into the leaf of a plant. The aphid itself is generally not noticed, but ants like the honeydew fluid secreted by aphids. For a gardener, the ants scuttling up and down the stem amid a sticky, black mass on the leaf are very noticeable.

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The relationship between the ants and the aphids is quite unique, as the ants get the food they like from the aphids’ honeydew, while the small aphids get protection from the larger ants. So you can treat the problem by either killing the aphids leaving the ants without food, or you can treat the ants and leave the aphids to other aphid-loving insects like ladybugs or wasps.

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My first line of attack was a spray of water from a hose intended to repel both aphids and ants, followed by an application of horticultural soap, which kills the aphid. Most of the small trees were easy to treat and responded well to this treatment, but one larger tree that is difficult to cover thoroughly had to be treated with an organic insecticide which I hope works. Any small branches that still have problems are removed and thrown in the bin.

Another very common pest in the spring garden is the cabbage white. This pretty little butterfly is dancing around the garden looking for your cabbage and broccoli plants. Once she finds the right plant, the eggs will be laid and in just a few days, caterpillars will eat through your plants. The caterpillars leave a dark green slime on the leaves and holes in the leaves. If you identify the eggs, they can be treated with horticultural soap or the leaf removed from the plant. The caterpillar phase can be treated with a bacterial insecticide called Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis). The same treatment can be applied to caterpillars on other plants such as azaleas and later on tomato hawkmoths and melons.

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Finding insect damage early and correctly identifying it is the most important step in keeping your garden pest under control.

Kate Copsey is a gardening writer, author, and speaker now residing in east Orangeburg County. Her book The Downsized Veggie Garden is available in bookstores everywhere and on her website www.katecopsey.com.

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