Tom Ingram Ask a master gardener
Last week we talked about two aspects of a comprehensive pest management strategy called Integrated Pest Management. This week we build on that by discussing the two remaining elements of IPM – mechanical and chemical controls.
Often the simple strategies are the best, but sometimes even the best strategy can intimidate some people. I am talking about the so-called mechanical control. There are several ways to use mechanical control and perhaps one of the best and most environmentally friendly is hand picking. For example: You walk into your garden one morning and see some cabbage grabbers chewing on your broccoli plant. Many gardeners’ first instinct would be to visit their pesticide cabinet, select an appropriate chemical pesticide, spray their plants and you’re done. However, a much simpler and equally effective strategy could be used instead: hand picking.
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Yes, you’ll probably need gloves, but for minor infestations you could snip off the leaves housing the caterpillars, throw them away, and you’ve easily made a pretty big dent in your pest population. Other pests like squash bugs can be easily crushed between fingers. Squash bugs release a slight odor when crushed, but it’s still a very effective way to keep them from destroying your food crops.
Cages or fences are also effective in controlling pests. Fences can keep larger pests like deer or rabbits out of your garden, and chicken wire covered frames can keep birds and squirrels away from your strawberries. They even make small bags to cover individual peaches on your tree to keep them safe.
Physical traps such as sticky traps or pheromone traps can also be effective in eliminating pests. Just place one or more of these traps near your plants and keep an eye out.
The last and hopefully least used pest control strategy in Integrated Pest Management is chemical control. Here are a few suggestions for organic and appropriate pesticides.
Bacillus thuringiensis or Bt is an organic pesticide made from bacteria found in soil. It is effective against caterpillar pests. After spraying the plant the caterpillars are feeding on, they eat the Bt, it makes them sick and they stop feeding. Also, Bt only targets caterpillars, so you don’t have collateral damage from your pesticide use.
Neem oil is another organic option and a kind of Swiss army knife among organic pesticides. Neem oil is made from the oil of the neem tree. As a horticultural oil, simply spray the neem oil on the bugs and the oil will suffocate them. Neem also has repellent properties to keep pests away and it works well as an antifungal for many fungal plant diseases. To be safe, test it on a small area of the plant first. Sometimes horticultural oils applied in hot weather can damage plants.
Insecticidal soap is another great option for biological pest control. It’s just a mixture of potassium salty fats (soap) and water. Insecticidal soap needs to be sprayed on the pest and is effective in controlling some insect pests. The soapy water can suffocate them, and it can also destroy the insects’ cell membranes, removing their protective waxes. Insecticidal soap is a good option for aphids, some scales, whiteflies, mealybugs, thrips, and spider mites.
On the Internet you will read a multitude of suggestions on how to make your own insecticidal soap using dish soap and water. However, be aware that dishwashing detergents contain a variety of ingredients such as degreasers, dyes, and chemicals to improve odor, etc. These dishwashing detergent ingredients are not approved for use as pesticides in your garden. Real insecticidal soap contains two ingredients — soap and water — making it a much better organic choice for your garden.
Other good examples of organic, targeted pesticides are spinosad and pyrethrin. For more information on organic pesticides, visit our website at tulsamastergardeners.org.
As with all pesticides, read the label and follow directions. Any product, even those with identical chemicals, can contain varying amounts of these chemicals, which will determine how they are safely applied and used. So, be sure to read the label so you can use the product from an informed place.
There is one last strategy you can use when it comes to pest control in your garden and that is to do nothing about the pest. We must always remember that the insects that might trouble us in the garden are only doing what they do: eat, reproduce and raise their young. These destructive caterpillars are just eating their way into adulthood. Sometimes there is enough in our garden for her and us. We can coexist. You might consider planting a little more so there is enough to share. It could hardly be more environmentally friendly. See you in the garden!
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You can get answers to all of your gardening questions by calling the Tulsa Master Gardeners Help Line at 918-746-3701, stopping by our Diagnostic Center at 4116 E. 15th St., or emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org .