It’s mid year and the garden is blooming, the sun is ablaze, and the pests are rampant. I get several questions every week in the shop about infestations and what to do about them. The term “pest” can range anywhere from your neighborhood deer to tiny little specs in the dirt that are too small for the naked eye to see. For many people, the damage has taken a huge toll already that can set back the due date for fruits and vegetables. In this blog I specifically want to cover a few products and techniques that can greatly cut down on small soft body insects such as aphids, thrips, mites, and a few others.
For the outdoor gardener, the best thing you can do is to try to prevent pest problems in the first place. If I could sum up into one word for better understanding, it would be ‘diversity’. Not only is this essential for soil health, but also breaks long-term life cycles of pests that are waiting for you to plant another buffet for them.
Cover cropping makes soil diversity easy and efficient by locking in nutrients and changing up the pests’ food source. In another blog I’ll go over the “what to plant next” to help gain a better understanding of rotation so stay tuned.
Interplanting can also be useful for both the outdoor and indoor gardener as a way to manage pests. Interplanting uses companion plants to help keep pests at bay naturally. For instance if your roses suffer from the common plague of aphids, try surrounding the bushes with chive plants. Simple pruning and trellising to keep your plant off the ground can also drastically decrease the number of bugs finding a new home.
Even embracing diversity, however, pests are probably going to be a fact of life in our climate. One of the first steps you can do to take back your garden is to eliminate the adult form of your insect, which usually is the one that catches your attention first and causes the most damage. By the time you see effects of an infestation, insects have triggered your plant to slow down and divert energy to repair and fight off the attackers, rather than growth and fruit production.
But never fear, here’s where the gardener can help. The first product I point gardeners to is a rosemary extract called SNS-217C that suffocates the pest causing it to dry up. From using the product, I find it very useful for immediate knock-back of the pest’s adult lifecycle. It won’t, however, eliminate upcoming future stages of a pest’s life. For example, a common fungus gnat has a four-stage lifecycle that takes approximately 28 days to complete.
Another great organic product to look out for would have pyrethrin in the ingredients, but I have found that it can be a little harsh on the plant if too concentrated, so stick to a ready to use spray if you haven’t used it before.
Diatomaceous earth can be used around the base of the plant to help keep small soft body insects from crawling up the main stem of the plant and reaching the canopy.
I believe the trick for maintaining a healthy garden is keeping a diligent regimen of foliar sprays that help deter insects from latching on and hiding in the canopy. A great organic preventative is spraying Neem oil once a week to give your plants a waxy barrier that tastes bitter to a wide range of bugs. Be sure to add a wetting agent to help the water and oil mix for an even coating on the tops and bottom of the leaves. The next day I follow up with an OMRI listed product called Aza-Max that contains azadirachtin which is processed by the plant systemically to help protect the plant from the inside out. A great way to remember is starting the week with Neem oil Mondays, Aza-Max Tuesdays, beneficial bacterial Wednesdays, and so forth. Do your best to not skip on these preventatives because even 24hrs can be several generation for some bugs to take control of the garden you worked hard for. Be sure to look out for soil drench options from these products to ensure the root zone of the plant is protected as well.