Did you know that only about 3% of the insect population actually does any kind of harm to our plants? That leaves 97% percent that are actually good bugs or just neutral. Joe looks at how the horticultural community is embracing biological controls and shows you that you don’t need to grab the pesticide spray at the first sign of a bug problem in your garden.
Suzanne Wainwright-Evans blends her degrees in environmental horticulture and entomology, into a unique skill as an “ornamental entomologist” specializing in Integrated Pest Management establishing that there is a safer way to treat pest problems. Her company, Bug Lady Consulting, specializes in controlling pests within the green industry; specifically greenhouses and nurseries.
Most often asked, “Where do insects come from”, she responds that they can arrive on the wind or use visual clues to find their food source and hitchhike from the garden center. She suggests that if you want to have a pest problem in your garden start spraying! By that she means non-selective synthetic pesticides will also kill beneficial insects, which will only exacerbate the problem.
And, how does she tell a good bug from a bad bug? Suzanne says if she sees a lot of insects hanging out together they are usually up to no good. In other cases, if you observe the insect, you can actually see the damage they are doing such as with caterpillars.
(Keep in mind that butterflies are pollinators so determine your tolerance for acceptable damage)
But once a pest problem has been identified, only select a product for that specific issue. Products on the market today are so much smarter and are able to narrowly target certain species. Bio-controls, which are federally regulated, are a natural way to control pests without the fear of releasing an invasive species into the environment.
At home there are several precautions we can take to minimize pest problems. The first line of defense is to plant the right plant in the right place. Read the label and follow those guidelines. Be careful not to over-fertilize or over-water. Plants that are stressed by these practices are more vulnerable to insect attacks. Also, utilize plants that attract beneficials. Varieties with small flowers such as alyssum, dill and basil are very useful for drawing predator insects to your garden.
Suzanne and Joe focus on several of the unsung heroes of the garden, a number of which are available for purchase. One of the most popular is the lady beetle. Suzanne cautions against purchasing adult ladybugs, but rather encourages purchasing laboratory-reared larvae instead. Adult ladybugs are harvested from the wild and immediately refrigerated. As such, when they arrive they do not have the voracious appetite the larvae do, are prone to fly away and may carry diseases that affect native ladybird beetles.
So what are some precautions can we take at the garden center before we even bring plants home? Joe suggests what to look for when making your purchase at the garden center. Checking the condition of the leaves, especially the undersides, and the root system will go a long way to ensure you are bringing home a plant in the best possible condition. Finally, a strong blast of water to cleanse the leaves gives extra assurance you have dislodged any opportunists you didn’t see.
But where it really starts is with the grower. Joe and OVW Greenhouse manager, Rich Densel, talk about the tactics they use to keep beneficial insects working inside the nursery. With thousands of plants all of the same variety, a monoculture so to speak, the potential for a serious pest outbreak is all the more probable. Here is where Suzanne has focused her energy into helping the wholesaler manage pests non-traditionally; without pesticides.
Four years ago Rich admits he had the “see bug, spray bug” mentality. Now the nursery is more proactive, introducing beneficials before pests can get a foothold. The benefits extend from more natural looking, colorful plants to the pond that retains excess water run-off on the property. Today the pond is chemical free and boasts a robust ecosystem.
For those of us at home, supporting a company that is helping to reduce chemical overuse benefits the planet by way of cleaner air, cleaner land and cleaner water. Likewise that chemical residue doesn’t come home to the family but the good guy predators do and happily take up residence in our own gardens.