When to Get Rid of Garden Pests and When Not To

Sometimes Pests Are Good

Here, our South Carolina pest control company shares an article by Judy Barrett from Austin American-Statesman. Here, she explains the world of gardening and how pests become a large part every year:

“The world is full of pests — at work, at home, on the internet and in the garden, still, in the hot weather garden pests get more active and annoying. As the gentle spring days are wafted away by the last breezes and the sun bears down, plants become more susceptible to damage and pests become more intent on damaging. Now is the time to marshal all your efforts to keep your garden healthy and productive for as long as possible.

One way to do that is to remember that every plant, like every dog, has its day. If your English peas have stopped blooming and making peas, jerk them out of the bed and put them in the compost. Some plants just can’t stand hot weather. No matter how much we water them, fertilize then and speak kindly to them, lettuce, cilantro, pansies, dill and broccoli will not survive a [hot Southern] summer. Instead of leaving sad and limping plants in the garden where they signal their distress to pests, get them out of there. Remember, they are continuing to do good work in the compost.

Replace the spring flowers and veggies with those that love hot weather — melons, southern peas, okra, zinnias, sunflowers and a host of native plants. These heat-lovers will be less susceptible to pests because they will be less stressed by the heat. You know how you are more likely to get a cold when you are stressed out? The same is true of plants. When they are growing in conditions where they are poorly adapted, they will be pale, straggly, bloomless bug magnets.

There are, of course, some plants we want to keep going as long as possible — tomatoes in particular. We can’t bear to pull out a tomato plant when there is the slightest chance another ripe tomato might appear. As the weather gets hotter, watch your tomatoes more closely. Are they blooming? If not, they aren’t going to make more tomatoes. Do they have gnawed leaves or fruit? Aside from the occasional bird peck, tomatoes shouldn’t show signs of insect damage. The most common tomato destroyers around here are the stink bug and its cousin the leaf-footed bug. Nasty creatures, they are usually brown or green and shield shaped. The leaf-footed bug has long legs and prominent knees (or elbows, however you look at it). Both of these pests come on strong once the weather gets really hot, and they cause havoc in our tomatoes. Both of them have the ability to pierce the fruit and suck out the juices leaving behind a hard, discolored and unpleasant spot on the tomato.

The first time you see a stink bug in the garden, leap into action! Begin by spraying the bush with a hard stream of water from the hose, washing it down thoroughly and dislodge the bugs. If you see only a few, take your jar of soapy water with you when you go out and try to coax the bugs into the water by smacking them with your hand or a small tool. They don’t bite people, just tomatoes, peppers, corn and our other garden favorites.

Throughout the year, no matter the season, you will be encouraging beneficial insects and other creatures to come into your garden. (You do that primarily by not murdering them with pesticides.) Now is when that practice begins to pay off. Now when a pest comes into the garden, your friendly predators will spring into action. Praying mantis, ladybugs, assassin bugs, lacewings and other insects along with birds, toads and lizards will all help control those nasty stink bugs.

Always wait a moment before springing into action with purchased pest controls. This year I learned that lightening bugs like to eat snails. Most years I attack snails with a vigorous routine of throwing them into the street and if that doesn’t sufficiently reduce their numbers, I buy some Sluggo and wipe them out with that. This year I loved seeing the lightening bugs and left the snails for their reward for nightly shows. As a result, I had very little problem with snail-gnawed plants. Nature will often provide a cure to pest problems if it you give it a chance.

Keep feeding and watering your tomatoes and enjoying the fruit as long as you can. At some point, however, it will inevitably become a loosing battle. The sun will rise hotter every morning, the plants will struggle for water and respite, and the bugs will increase in number. At that point, give up and make plans (and plants) for a fall garden. As that wise old Lion King said, “It’s the circle of life.”

In the height of summer, sometimes friendly bugs might look like pests. Maturing caterpillars of all of our favorite butterflies will be gnawing away at some plants. Parsley, dill, milkweed, passion vine and more are delicious food for the caterpillars. We don’t want to kill them. We want them to turn into butterflies, which we can see and enjoy from our air-conditioned windows. So we sacrifice a few plants that are probably nearing the end of their productive season anyway so that the Monarchs, Swallowtails and Fritillaries can reach maturity. Birds are also sometimes perceived as pests when they peck away at ripening fruit and veggies. Still they eat lots of bugs, sing pretty songs and make the world a more cheerful place. Stinging creatures — wasps, yellow jackets, even bees — can be annoying, but are always garden helpers. They pollinate our flowers and food plants; they control pests, and they make intricate homes for their young which they often stuff with poisonous spiders.

As always, balance is the goal. We may need to kill some caterpillars that are heavy on the pillaging of vegetable plants, but we also need to preserve the caterpillars that make beautiful butterflies and useful pollinators. We may want to keep out tomatoes going well into the hottest days, but we also need to realize they are possibly doing more harm that good to others nearby plants. Balance between predator and pest, between drought and flood, between good and evil. These grand themes are acted out everyday in the garden. That’s one of the reasoning gardening is to much fun — and makes us feel so powerful.”

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