2017 looks like it’s going to be a tough year for bugs in Northern Virginia landscapes. Every gardener dreads dealing with bugs and other pests; it can be both time-consuming and expensive. The old adage, “the best medicine is prevention,” is also true for landscape pests, though. Following good gardening practices, encouraging natural predators, and frequently checking your plants can go a long way in avoiding pesky insect damage.
Uncovering the Source of Your Pest Problem
Once you have discovered damage to your plants, or have seen the bugs themselves, there are several approaches available to eradicate them from your landscape. If possible, the use of control products should be a last resort. There are many organic remedies available and several effective solutions that can be created from everyday kitchen items.
Tips for dealing with common garden pests:
- These tiny, pear-shaped creatures can quickly destroy a plant. Although small – a minuscule sixteenth of an inch – they multiply quickly. A dozen aphids can breed into thousands in a matter of weeks. Aphids suck the sap from leaves, stems, and buds of a variety of trees, flowers, and ornamental plants. If you see leaves covered with aphids, act quickly to remove them from their new home.
- Prune away any leaves that are curled and yellow. Spray plants with water to knock aphids off the plant. Repeat this process for several days to rid the plant any remaining bugs. If water alone doesn’t remove all of them, spray the plant with a mixture of water and dish soap, taking care to coat both the top and bottom of leaves. To reduce the risk of fungal diseases, spray plants in the morning so that they will dry quickly in the heat of the day.
- The mother slug lays her eggs at the base of the plant so that her babies will have plenty to munch. Using a mixture of ammonia and water, spray the slugs and eggs directly. The ammonia in the mixture converts to nitrogen, so while you are ridding your garden of bugs, you will also be fertilizing your garden.
- If you don’t have ammonia on hand, try dusting flour on the leaves of your plants in the morning, before the sun is its hottest. Slugs like to eat early in the day before it’s too hot. After nibbling on the flour-coated plant, they will explode in the sun.
- Stink Bugs
- Stink bugs are known for releasing a foul odor as a defense mechanism when facing predators. They are herbivores and feed on shrubs, vines, and ornamental trees. Not only do they extract plant juices with their sucking mouthparts, but they can also transmit a yeast-spot disease.
- Producing up to four generations each season, by July the female stink bug will have laid hundreds of eggs on long grass and weeds. Keep your grass mowed and eliminate weeds to discourage a potential habitat for the bugs.
- Another way to disrupt the reproductive cycle and reduce population growth is to remove the bugs by hand. Be careful not to crush them and release their unpleasant scent; drowning them may be less smelly than squashing.
- Spraying your plants with soapy water is a practical method to control a stink bug infestation. The soap impairs their exoskeleton and causes them to drown quickly in the spray.
- Spider Mites
- These tiny creatures, only a millimeter in size, are a formidable enemy to over 200 varieties of plants. They are so small that an infestation may go unnoticed until it is severe. Most spider mites produce webbing to protect eggs from predators and changing weather conditions. If you find these silky threads on plant leaves, it is a definite indicator of an infestation.
- Spider mites thrive in warm, dry conditions. Water your plants regularly to stave off infestation.
- Use a hose with a spray nozzle directly on plant leaves to dislodge eggs and feeding adults, and to wash away the webbing.
- Lady beetles and spiders are natural predators of spider mites, and overuse of chemical pesticides can eliminate these predators and allow spider mites to reproduce unchecked. Limit use of these chemicals unless absolutely necessary to keep these natural-born killers on hand.
- Four-legged Vermin: Moles, Voles, Mice and Squirrels
- These critters love to dig up all the bulbs you worked so hard to plant in the fall. To prevent them from nibbling on your bulbs before flowers are produced, sprinkle the bulbs with chili powder when you plant them. Dusting the top of the ground with it will also prevent dogs and cats from digging up the soil near the bulbs.
Taking Advantage of Friendly Beasts
Amazingly, scientists estimate that about ten quintillion insects live in the world today. Many of these insects are helpful in preventing the bugs that love to ruin our roses or nibble on those tomato plants. Encourage some of the “good guys” to live in your garden, and it will make maintaining a healthy landscape much easier.
- Ladybugs – Ladybugs love to munch on aphids. Invite them to visit by not using insecticides.
- Thrush – The tiny thrush is one of the few birds that feed their young with insects. Encourage them to stay in your garden by providing nesting sites, year-round water, and supplementary food.
- Hoverflies – These beneficial insects are excellent pollinators and love to eat aphids. They resemble a wasp and are often confused with bees. They prefer white, yellow, and orange blooms, so plant these colors in your landscape to keep them around.
Protect Your Beautiful Landscaping Today
Although this year is predicted to be a difficult one, prevention is the best method for inhibiting an infestation. With a bit of practice in recognizing common pests, controlling them can be easier than you think. If you begin to lose the battle with aphids, spider mites, or another pest, though, give Epling a call. We’ll send the bad guys packing and keep your lawn and landscape healthy and happy all year long.