Hello fellow Earthlings and welcome to the garden. Once again we are discussing the topic of controlling the unwanted visitors that often plague our precious plants. This time our discussing will focus on materials that are easy to use and considerably less toxic to you and the environment. So let's take a walk out to the garden and inspect those plants for marauders.
Pests attack plants most often when plants are stressed or weakened in some way. The classic way for us to have fewer pest problems in our gardens is to grow and maintain healthy plants. This is the most common form of pest control. For those occasions when pests do take hold on your plants it is a good idea to take a close look t the type of pest insect that has taken up residence and tailor your control strategy to that pest. This is the best way for you to do the least amount of collateral damage to beneficial insects or other organisms.
Finding out what kind of bug is feeding on your plants is relatively simple. Your local nurseryman or agricultural extension agent can normally identify most garden pest insects. They will inevitably give you some control information as well. If this data includes the use of chemical pesticides, thank them for the identification assistance and ask them if they know of any less toxic methods of control. This is the easiest way to see if your local merchant or the USDA is increasing their knowledge to include environmentally responsible pest control methods.
After identifying your pest is accomplished, you can go forward with choosing a control method. I always like to start with my favorite pest control method. A sharp jet of water aimed directly at certain pests like aphids is a very effective control method. Not only do you clean the bugs off of your plants this way but you also give your plants a nice bath. I also use soaps to control pests. There are several insecticidal soap products available at garden centers these days. Most are very effective, but my favorite is a material sold at every health food market. It is called Dr. Bronner's pure castile soap. I prefer the peppermint oil version of this soap because it works very well at cutting through the protective cuticle (waxy coating) of the insect exposing it to drying out. This particular material also has the added benefit of an insect repellant. The peppermint oils have a very strong vapor action that has the short lived but effective action of making plants unattractive to pests. I also like the smell of peppermint as an alternative to foul smelling toxic insecticides.
Other materials that are plant derivatives can be used to control insect pests. Many of these materials are considered "least toxic" pesticides and should be used with some care. Products derived from plant extracts are sold today as organic and natural pest controls. It should be noted that some of these materials are rather non-selective bug killers and should only be used when other methods have failed or pest infestations are threatening to kill your plants. Some of the more common materials are as follows:
Garlic oil- This very effective insecticide is mostly a repellant. It has a fairly long residual effect and will make you hungry for pasta.
Pepper Sprays- Yes, this is effectively the same stuff the cops use to control unruly crowds. It is easy to use, very effective at controlling a number of pests, and is harmless to the environment. Keep this material out of your eyes unless you like to cry.
Pyrethrins- This is a general insecticide that is often useful when pest problems are out of control. It should be used with caution due to the fact that it is toxic to honeybees and is highly toxic to fishes. Pyrethrins is derived from the flowers of a relative of the chrysanthemum. It has no residual activity and breaks down immediately.
Rotenone- This derivative of the roots of various South American legumes in the genus Lonchocarpus. This non-selective insecticide is a nerve toxin to pests and has a residual effect that lasts about a week. Rotenone is restricted in some states and is toxic to birds, fish, and honeybees.
Neem- Neem is derived from the Neem tree of India. Neem can be used to control a number of pests and is known to render some pest species sterile. It also has some fungicidal properties and is used to control powdery mildew and rust on some plants. Neem is easy on beneficial insects and also appears to have some repellant properties against pests.
These are just a few of the choices available to gardeners willing to try less toxic and more environmentally sound methods of controlling pests in the garden. They are becoming more available as their popularity increases so ask your nursery professional about these materials. Chances are they know about them and are more than willing to stock them for you. No logical person wants to use something highly toxic to do a job that can be done by a product that is natural and benign. Next time we will be discussing natural products for disease control. See you in the Garden!
Got Questions? Email the Doc at Curly@mill.net Don Trotter's natural gardening columns appear nationally in environmentally sensitive publications. For lots more helpful tips check out Don's books Natural Gardening A-Z and The Complete Natural Gardener at bookstores near you and all on-line booksellers both from Hay House publishing www.hayhouse.com
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