Adventures in Gardening: Continuing the "Bug" Wars

by David Soper

When you've identified culprits feasting in your garden, you need to attack. The best is to attack them where they live. Trying to focus on the plants at this stage is not as effective as going for them when and where they go when they aren't having lunch at your expense.

While I am not a particular advocate of the tidy garden, most of the earwigs, slugs and snails live in debris, under rocks, bricks and the like.

If you are trying to practice "Integrated Plant Maintenance" as I've been writing about the last several weeks (see back articles in the archives of this newsletter), you might be tempted to introduce beneficial insects at this stage. This is particularly tempting if you haven't seen any friends around lately. It certainly is an earth-friendly way to go and scores maximum points in environmental circles.

The problem is, outside of greenhouses, I'm not sure it is a very effective. First, it takes a while for the good bugs to get established. They may wander far afield looking for their favorite food. Most gardeners, when they've reached this stage of frustration, don't want to wait several weeks it may take to see results. Introduced insects are generally specific to one problem insect so you need to be sure you are appropriately matching the right fighter with the enemy. By the way, if you see an advertisement offering praying mantis as the ideal garden predator, forget it. Every entomologist with whom I've talked say they just don't work. (In fact, they use stronger language than that.)

Here's what Colorado State University says "At present, Colorado state University entomologists cannot recommend any of these beneficial organisms for insect pest control in the yard and garden. They artificial releases have not clearly been demon- strated to affect pest insect populations."

So what to do? Are heavy-duty chemicals the only answer? Before you go that direction, consider botanical insecticides. It is hard to overstate the unwitting damage done by gardeners with wholesale spraying of highly toxic chemicals to kill garden pests. We all should learn to live with a little hole here or an unscheduled leaf crimping there. We too often (and I'm certainly guilty of this) lose sight of the overall beauty of our gardens and spend too much time in pursuit of perfection. So I recommend you start first with the botanicals. They may be good enough to resolve your pest problem.

Next week, I'll tell you about botanicals that really work including one that's been working 4,000 years!

Good luck and great gardening.

David Soper, The Garden Guy, writes and lectures on gardening topics. Check out his books at

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