Daniel Gill, Merrill, Thomas A. | 4/19/2005 10:28:55 PM
Wherever you go in America, gardeners will tell you about the terrible pest problems they have to deal with. Still, it seems as though we have more than our share of insects, diseases and weeds in Louisiana.
It is important to remember that the use of pesticides is only one method for controlling pests and that minimizing the use of pesticides, whether they are chemical or organic, always is a good idea. There are other techniques gardeners should use that can help prevent the severe infestations that make the use of pesticides necessary.
Make it a point to inspect your landscape frequently for developing problems. Weed control is a prime example where early intervention is far easier and more effective than letting a situation get really bad before taking action.
One of the best defenses against pest problems is to keep your plants in tip-top condition through good cultural practices. A healthy, vigorous plant usually is more resistant to disease and withstands insect attack better, and a healthy lawn resists weeds. Good culture includes giving your plants proper spacing, soil, drainage, water, light and nutrients.
Another excellent way to avoid insect and disease problems is through plant selection. Simply do not plant those plants which are known to be prone to insect or disease problems. Instead, choose plants that are adapted to your climate and are naturally resistant to major problems or those that have been bred and selected for insect and disease resistance. If you have plants that constantly seem to have something attacking them despite your best efforts, consider removing them and replacing them with plants that you have found to be more carefree.
In vegetable gardens and annual flower beds, which are replanted every year, crop rotation is important. Planting the same type of plants in the same bed year after year can cause a buildup of disease organisms in the soil that use those plants as hosts. Plant different things in your garden in different places every year, whenever possible.
Proper sanitation is another important factor in controlling insect and disease problems. Stands of weeds and scrub growing near gardens and landscapes can serve as alternate hosts and places of refuge and breeding for pests.
Always keep your yard, gardens and adjacent areas as weed free as possible. Fruit and fallen leaves infected with disease should be collected, bagged and thrown away. And never leave rotten vegetables and leaves on the ground in your vegetable garden.
Also, keep dead branches regularly pruned out of fruit trees, shade trees and shrubs. Dead and rotting branches can serve as points of entry and sources of infection.
Some disease organisms live in the soil and are splashed onto plants by rain. The application of mulch to soil under plants can reduce the occurrence of these types of diseases. This is especially helpful when growing fruit and vegetable crops like tomatoes, squash and strawberries.
Mulches also are the best way to save work and reduce the use of herbicides to control weeds in beds. And there’s no question that weeds certainly are a leading garden pest. Weed control, whatever method you use, is always more effective when done regularly and before the weed problem becomes major.
When problems do occur, proper diagnosis is critical to correctly deal with the situation with the most appropriate and safest control method.
Unfortunately, diagnosing the cause of problems is not always easy for the average gardener. But the symptoms a particular insect or disease causes usually are distinctive enough to make diagnosis fairly certain by a capable professional.
Agents at your parish LSU AgCenter Extension office are available to help you identify problems and recommend solutions. Most local nurseries and garden centers also may have individuals on staff who can help you identify the damage and decide on the proper action to take. Of course, books and the Internet also provide valuable resources for identifying pest problems.
If pesticides are recommended for control, always request the least toxic material that will do the job, and ask if something you already have would work (make a list of what you have, and have it with you when asking advice). Read the label of the recommended product completely and thoroughly before you purchase it to make sure it is appropriate for the situation and that you are comfortable using it.
Finally, when using concentrated pesticides that must be mixed with water, keep in mind that water from municipal water treatment facilities often is alkaline, and many pesticides break down rapidly when mixed with alkaline water. Whenever possible, if it’s necessary, adjust the pH to make the water more acidic by using products available where garden pesticides are sold.
Get It Growing is a weekly feature on home lawn and garden topics prepared by experts in the LSU AgCenter. For more information on such topics, contact your parish LSU AgCenter Extension office or visit our Web site at www.lsuagcenter.com. A wide range of publications and a variety of other resources are available.