Biological Controls

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Biological Controls: Responsible Pest Management Practices for the Home Gardener

While we would like to tell you that maintaining a garden is an effortless task filled with sunshine and butterflies the truth is that the weather doesn’t always cooperate and there are insects a whole lot less benevolent than butterflies eager to spend time in your yard. One of our goals at Cedar Rim is to help you with all the aspects of gardening…from the plant selection to developing responsible and appropriate pest management techniques, we are here to help you in any way we can.

The area of pest management in the home garden has seen radical changes in the last decade. Where gardeners of ten or twenty years ago could turn to chemicals for everything from weed control to insect eradication, today’s gardeners are being encouraged to look for less toxic means of dealing with insects, weeds and fungal damage.

There are a number of things to consider before implementing any type of pest control measures. The first is whether any controls are actually needed. Do a survey of your garden. Are the plants showing good growth and reasonably unblemished foliage, flowers and fruit? If they are then there may not be a need to upset the balance already established in their environment. If there are growth issues, blemishes or signs of pests the next consideration needs to be the level of damage.

Different gardeners, and different plants, have different tolerance levels for damage. One gardener might be offended by slug-nibbled foliage and feel the need to use baits, barriers or traps to bring these slimy pests to their proverbial knees, while another gardener might remove the most badly chewed leaves and decide to look into growing foliage plants less desirable to slugs and snails. A well established plant in a good site with nutrient rich soil and an appropriate watering regime might withstand an aphid attack with barely a blink while a newly started, undernourished or otherwise stressed specimen might totally succumb to the damage these sap sucking pests can inflict. The decision to be made is whether or not the situation calls for immediate intervention, and what form that intervention should take.

Once you have decided that the damage being done warrants action you need to properly identify the perpetrator. There is very little point in wasting time, energy and money killing or deterring something that isn’t actually causing the damage. Rather than just resorting to blanket spraying of highly toxic chemicals gardeners are now being encouraged to identify and deal with specific pests in a more environmentally sustainable way.

Pest management in a sustainable environment can take the form of selective planting, choosing plants that are not pest or disease prone, or barrier methods, such as remay cloth to protect carrots from carrot maggots or biodegradable weed barriers such as sterile mulch or the new fabric barrier approved for organic growers.

It can incorporate companion planting techniques, using one plants scent to make that area undesirable for pests, or preventative measures such as a regular clean up of debris and use of horticultural oils to smother pests. Adding a lime sulphur component to the oil and applying it durin the dormant season will also greatly reduce fungal diseases.

Sometimes physical removal of the pests is possible. Aphids can quite often be dislodged with a stream of water, or if you aren’t squeamish, can be stripped from the tender buds and stems by hand. No one ever said going green was going to neat and tidy! Odd as it sounds the remains of the squished bugs seems to act as a deterrent for others.

Commercial growers are embracing the idea of using the insects’ own physiology against them. Everything from pheromones to draw the pests to sticky traps to bringing in the pests natural predators can be used and the good news is that a lot of these fixes are available to the home gardener.

One of the most amazing, and effective, is the use of nematodes. These voracious microscopic worms are the natural enemies of many insects that have a larval stage as part of their life cycle. The weevils that attack our broad leafed evergreen are a great example, as are crane flies, two pests that most gardeners could happily do without. Nematodes provide a method of greatly reducing the populations of these insects without using chemicals on your lawn or shrub beds. Check out our link to the Bug Factory for more information on beneficial insects and their uses.

The new thinking on pest management encourages starting with the least toxic methods and working your way up. If natural remedies won’t work for a specific situation you might want to look at something stronger.

Safers and a number of other companies have long used insecticides containing pyrethrins, insecticides that are derived from the extract of chrysanthemum flowers. While that might sound totally environmentally friendly, pyrethrins are highly toxic to fish and tadpoles, to beneficial insect (such as honeybees) and many aquatic invertebrates. On the other hand pyrethrins are low in toxicity to humans, other mammals, and birds. So while these products are effective they should also be used wisely.

In the end there might be situations that you decide warrant bringing out the big guns. We do sell the chemical pesticides that are approved for home use and always have staff onsite with pesticide dispensing certification to help you choose the correct product and to discuss the appropriate application.

There are also many great resources available to interested gardeners, both online and in print. “Bugs, Slugs and Other Thugs” written by Rhonda Massingham Hart is a long time favourite, and a recent online article written by Kent Mullinix, PhD for gardenwiseonline.ca did a great job of demystifying some the language used in regards to pest management.

Gardening should be enjoyable, and rewarding. The trick is finding the balance between effort, environmental impact and effectiveness. Here at Cedar Rim we are happy to help our customers find solutions to all of their gardening dilemmas…except for the weather, unfortunately we can’t help you there!

Happy Gardening!

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