And I don’t mean the annoying neighbors partying into the wee hours.
Nancy writes that there are some recent Wallyhood Forum questions about aphids. Upon reading the various comments, it appears that aphids, whiteflies, midges, flies, or other winged creatures may be causing consternation among gardeners and homeowners alike.
The key to putting one’s mind at ease regarding creatures is
- Make sure you get a good i.d. This is THE most important thing to do. Without a proper identification, you can’t treat the problem effectively. One way to do this is to collect the creature in question – lure it into a jar and take good closeup photo. If you don’t mind causing it discomfort, you could keep it in the jar and take it to a local nursery or Master Gardener clinic.
Alternatively, send a detailed closeup photo with as many body parts visible as possible to the wonderful folks at Bugguide.net (reading the submission guidelines carefully). Trying to describe insects without a photo or the actual bug is not helpful.
- Once you have the i.d., check the Grow Smart Grow Safe website for the least toxic management ideas.
So, back to the forum comments – the identification of the pest varies from “whitefly” to flies that may be coming from compost, collecting around windows, etc. These all sound like different pests. Hence the admonition to identify carefully. But, take aphids & whitefly as an example.
Aphids and whitefly are insects that suck out plant juices. Aphids go for the tips of buds and leaves, whitefly land on the underside or surface of leaves and fly up when you disturb them. Spring is the obvious time to have problems with insects on tender new growth. My blog post on Girding for Pests and Other Thoughts on Spring may be of some help when confronting this kind of insect. I talk about boom and bust population cycles, predators, the fact that aphids are born pregnant, and such.
Since sucking insects have access to what is the equivalent of the bloodstream of a plant, they can spread viruses and disease among plants if they move around, so control may be necessary depending on your situation.
Some people (Nancy, who brought this to my attention, is one) plant trap crops that aphids like, so they will go to those plants rather than the ones you really care about. Sometimes this works.
If you have a high value plant that will be damaged seriously by early attack, try treating that plant with one of the Grow Smart remedies (Safer’s soap, etc, or just squish them).
Perhaps the idea of purchasing ladybugs or lacewings to eat the pests is appealing – I would caution that buying predators from other locales and moving them in is not the most efficient method of pest control. Often the ladybugs are in cold storage, and when they wake up they think they have been hibernating and immediately leave the area to migrate. Also, some of the collection methods may not be the most sustainable. Plus, if the conditions (food supply, places to live, any number of environmental factors) are not right, they will leave to find them. Lacewings work well in controlled conditions like greenhouses, but out in the world purchased ones may not survive as well. Here is some good info on lacewings.
A far better idea is to build up your very own populations of predators with ecologically sound gardening methods.
Observe – watch what is going on before you freak out; if it’s not too icky, try raising a few insects from larvae or eggs to find out what they look like in other, possibly less charismatic life stages.
Many adult insects feed on nectar and/or pollen; the other stages are predatory. Here is a lacewing larva, that does the eating, and their beautiful eggs. The adult feeds on sweet things like honeydew from aphids.
Make sure beneficials have what they need:
- food (that would be your target pests, also sometimes nectar and pollen, depends on the bug and the life stage)
- shelter and overwintering/hibernating places in leaf litter, under debris and bark crevices
- no pesticides
- a light hand on the maintenance, i.e. do not “clean cultivate” every inch of the yard
- add compost regularly
- grow a variety of plants, as many native as possible, and plant enough to cover but not crowd the space at multiple vertical and horizontal layers
chances are quite good that MOST of the bugs in your garden are beneficial!