Behnkes Gardening Tips – May 25th, 2008
The end of May means the beginning of summer in Maryland, and that means your garden faces an onslaught of pests and diseases. Many gardeners answer the call with weapons of mass destruction in quantities measured in pounds and gallons. Americans support the limitation of chemical application in farm fields, while at the same time reacting with carpet bombing when one bug is spotted at home.
When it comes to pesticides, I am a radical moderate. I first look to healthy plants to fight their own battles, and then try to find the smallest amount of the least harmful product to help me survive the summer. A healthy, unstressed plant is the best defense against disease and insects. The right soil, water and light conditions with the right amount of feeding at the correct time goes a long way towards sustainable and affordable gardening.
Many insects are out to get your favorite plants because the plant is in a place you want it to be but the location is not ideal. For example, azaleas planted in full summer sunlight on a southern exposure are an invitation for lace bug and repeated pesticide applications. Over feeding annuals with high nitrogen products on a tight schedule produces great deep green growth at phenomenal rates and your own herd of aphids.
Watch your planting site choices; feed when necessary not when convenient. Provide healthy soils, and remember you do not need a gallon to kill one insect. Look for bag worms on evergreens now and be prepared to pull them off by hand (they look like brown left-over Christmas ornaments on arborvitae, cedars and other evergreens) if a few and spray with a product which contains Bacillus thuringiensis.
Bt is a natural control agent though it is very time application sensitive. If this does not work, next week around June 6th or so, you can send in the heavy shock troops using the chemistry of acephates (Orthene) a toxic weapon which will take care of the problem. It will also take care of any beneficial insects and remove the song bird food supply for a while, so remember, moderation before reaction. Plant the right plant in the right place and save yourself some time and money.
By John Peter Thompson