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!
Photos: Lacewing larva: Wikipedia rom de.wiki, uploaded by kulac author Eric Steinert; Eggs
Taking the opportunity to make another pitch for our friendly wasps, specifically I think the European Paper Wasp:
They look a lot like Yellowjackets, but the resemblance is superficial. Yellowjackets are the miserable pests that hang around your food when you’re outdoors. Aggressive and persisent, they particularly love to eat meat and rely on their sense of smell to find it, so their flight follows a distinctive side-to-side quartering path. Hunting wasps use their eyes, and you can see them flying around your shrubberies, conducting a close scrutiny for any kind of caterpillar. If they somehow get in the house, they may be able to see the window pane and are less likely to spend a long time banging their heads against it. They’re a little longer and leaner, with long legs and a broader wingspan. Smallish nests in shelter locations.
Not a native species (if as I suspect they’re the European Paper Wasp), so we can probably assume they’ll hang in there and keep doing their pest management job regardless, but it doesn’t hurt to recognize that they’re here, looking a lot like yellowjackets but not the same kind of nuisance. Since our food doesn’t attract them, they’re rarely in the house or buzzing around your dinner; encounters are mostly about the nest.
There are a handful of other beneficial wasps, most so small you’d never notice. One that lays eggs in a white lump on the head of a tent caterpillar. The big, very long, mostly black mud dauber wasps are also hunters, but seem to favor spiders, the bigger the better, so it depends on how you feel about spiders (chickadees will also go for spiders, but the mud daubers work the ground too and get a broader variety; in any case, some natural control of predators is good for a stable predator/prey equilibrium, so it can be a good thing even though spiders are technically beneficial.) We also have smaller, much more delicate black spider hunting wasps, which are less of a threat to people than the mud daubers. But the mud daubers can also be more endearing. When the new generation comes out of the little mud nests in early summer, it’s still cool and they’re hungry and kind of stunned with their new world, and they’ll happily sit on your finger and drink sugar water while they take it all in.
I stand by my previous comment that for aphids, a mild soap solution, (several drops liquid dish soap in water) attached to a garden hose does the trick. Spray the whole tree, and get under the leaves as well as the tops of leaves. Kills the aphids and they don’t tend to come back for the season. If they do, hit them again.
By the way, this not only does no damage to the tree. On the contrary, it washes off surface dirt and actually helps the trees breath better.
You can also send questions and photos to the Garden Hotline (www.gardenhotline.org) that the Tilth Society runs for the city and county. I also strongly recommend Rodale’s Natural Pest and Disease Control. It’s a great resource.
The public library also has it.