Ask the master gardeners
Q: I would like to switch to less toxic methods of pest control, especially in my vegetable garden. Can you provide some suggestions?
A: For 2011, why not resolve to reduce pesticides in your garden? Many gardeners use pesticides out of habit or because they know no other methods.
Garden pests are usually a symptom of a bigger problem. Make it a habit to regularly check the garden for early warning signs. Do you have good soil drainage or are there areas of standing water or other pest breeding sites? Do you have a compost pile that you regularly use to feed the soil? Do you have just the right spot for that plant’s optimal growing conditions? By taking care of these basic gardening principles, you will likely eliminate the need for many pesticides and fertilizers.
There are also a host of tools available. Physical methods of pest control include plucking, washing or vacuuming bugs off plants or using row covers to block insects. Prevent weeds by mulching and pulling weeds by hand (and don’t wait until they take over the garden).
Enlist Mother Nature to fight your gardening battles: toads, dragonflies, nematodes, bats, birds and other insects are your natural allies — learn how to attract them to your garden and provide them with the support they need.
Horticultural oils are effective against aphids, mites, scale insects, whiteflies and other pests. Insecticidal soaps are most effective against soft-bodied pests, including thrips and caterpillars.
Botanical insecticides, made from naturally occurring plant extracts, also are effective and degrade rapidly in the environment. Be sure to follow the instruction on the manufacturer’s label when applying; many are broad spectrum and will also kill beneficial plants and insects. Use with caution! Natural doesn’t necessarily mean they are harmless!
Just as many of us have resolved in 2011 to watch what we eat and take better care of ourselves, by taking these simple steps in your garden you can maximize plant and soil health, improve yield and eliminate the need to resort to pesticides to solve your gardening problems. Here’s to healthier gardening this spring!
Elaine Trainor, Pearl River, master gardener with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Rockland