Guest Post: Responsible Management of Garden Pests

It’s a bit late for gardens in the northern hemisphere but good timing for the southern hemisphere. Regardless, this is good information to have on hand. -GRM

Managing pests used to simply be a case of finding the right chemicals from the closest hardware store and having at it. Now, this is no longer the case due to increasing concern for the environment and human/animal welfare. In order to help adapt to these changes, many scientists recommend using an ‘Integrated Pest Management’ strategy, or IPM for short.

With IPM, gardeners can keep pests at bay without the need for harmful pesticides and other chemicals. It relies on careful planning, effective maintenance and natural control in order to ensure that plants stay as healthy as possible whilst resisting infestation by insects and disease.

Your garden’s attraction to pests all depends on the way it is planted and maintained. In order to prevent pests from the start, try the following:

  • Health. Ensuring that your plants are getting the right amount of sunlight, water and fertiliser can be your greatest defence against pests. Always remember to try and strike a good balance – not too much, not too little.
  • Observance. Keeping a close eye on the state of your plants will mean that you can act straight away should you spot any signs of pests.
  • Timing. It’s best to start considering IPM straight away by choosing plants that are pest-free and/or pest-resistant.
  • Encouragement. Not all insects found in the garden are pests! Many are beneficial for the wellbeing of your garden, including spiders, ladybirds, lacewings and parasitic wasps. It can be worthwhile to encourage these types of insects.
  • Location. If a plant’s location is not suited to them then they can become stressed which can attract pests. Think about where you wish to plant before making a commitment.

So it’s Health, Observance, Timing, Encouragement and Location. Just remember – you don’t want your garden to be a ‘hotel’ for pests!

Treating Problems

IPM is the most environmentally responsible way of dealing with garden pests, and relies on harmful chemicals only when there is no other alternative. Here are some suggested techniques:

  • Be careful in your treatment. Plants that appear damaged might be in better shape than they appear. Try and set a limit to how much plant damage you’re willing to accept. Every healthy garden contains insects, so a little minor damage should not be a cause for concern.
  • Remove affected leaves/parts of the plant. If a certain type of pest is attacking a specific part of the plant, then the problem can often be reduced/eliminated simply by removing the affected part.
  • Help beneficial insects. If a pest outbreak appears to be under control by ‘good’ insects then leave them to it – harming the pests will only aid their comrades.
  • Pick off larger pests by hand. This can be effective on larger, slow-moving insects. Dispose of them accordingly afterwards – those against killing living creatures can move them to a nearby unused/disowned field.
  • If in doubt, minimise the impact. Always try handpicking insects and pruning the plants first before resorting to pesticides. If it’s absolutely necessary, choose the least harmful products you can find, i.e. insectidal soap, botanicals (e.g. pyrethrum, rotenone, neem), horticultural oil, microbials (e.g. abamectin, spinosad, Kurstaki) etc.
  • Abstain from ‘broad-spectrum’ insecticides. These kinds of chemicals are not selective, and so will kill any manner of insect without prejudice. Look for targeted products instead, as these will target only specific pests. The bacterium ‘Kurkstaki’, for example, will target caterpillars without having an effect on beneficial insects.
  • Only target the area. If you must use pesticides, apply it only to specific areas that have been affected by pests. Also, be sure to read the label, as you could end up harming more than just insects!
  • Check the products compatibility with certain plants. To do this, check the label to see which types of plant it can be applied to and which might be sensitive.  If unsure, test the product on a small area of the plant initially. Then, check the plant for leaf burn after a couple of days. Chemical injust to plants (phytotoxicity) often resembles a burn on the edge of the leaf.
  • Apply during cooler temperatures. Certain pesticides can have a detrimental effect on plants when they reach a certain heat.

Author Bio: Simon Howarth is a keen gardener with an interest in conservation, blogging on behalf of Tiger Sheds.

Photo: Garden bed with young fresh herbs from Shutterstock


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