After all of the amazing work accomplished in the spring by getting our landscape into good
condition for the season, it can be infuriating when the plants aren't doing well. We often find them covered in pests, not growing, have poor leaf color, and many more problems. Then we spray our garden and then do it again a few weeks later and the problem just seems to get worse. It may seem obvious, but these sprays are full of various chemicals. And just like we don't spray ourselves with toxin, it isn't the best to spray our plants either. So how do we deal with the onslaught of pests in our gardens? An easy solution could be to plant items bugs are not attracted to, but that not 100% effective. Creating a sterile environment is not long-term sustainable. The healthy and sustaining solution includes creating a habitat for your plants that leads to be beneficial for some certain insects. If we get the right 'pests' they will maintain a healthy level of the harmful insects in your yard, thus allowing your plants to thrive.
One of the best ways to control pests is to have healthy trees and plants. If they are healthy, usually pests do not invade. This includes the right plant for your soil. Most of the work needed in the entire landscape is good soil preparation, so check out my blog post on that subject. Even though we can fluctuate only a little the pH level of the soil, we can greatly improve the soil structure. All plants need air, water, and nutrients to grow and thrive. Heavy clay soil does not drain easily nor does it share nutrients with plants. Sandy soils drain too quickly and have no nutrients. So supplementing the soil will help. Attaining a ratio of 20-40-40 would be ideal for your soil: 20 percent sand, 40 percent top soil and 40 percent compost. Sand keeps air in the soil and helps drainage, top soil gives the plants strong soil to root in, and compost keeps moisture near the roots and gives plants the best form of nutrients. Soil that drains properly as well as keeps air, moisture, and nutrients in easy reach of the roots makes a happy home for the plants. And those plants will thrive and remain healthy, thus successfully fighting off most pest infestations.
The next step to pest control is to plant the right plant in the right place. This way the plant won’t have to fight the frustration of its location, such as too small of an area, poor soil, too hot, and too wet. Take a quick walk around your house and you will notice a difference in temperature, wind exposure, and sun exposure. If you have a shade loving plant in full hot sun against the house, you will quickly have a burned dying plant. You will have to spend the time, money and effort replacing it. You definitely want to spend the effort of getting the right plant in the right place.
The third step to pest control is correct watering with drip lines. Spray watering, even micro-sprays, never makes a happy plant; they don't like their leaves wet. Spray watering will also cause uneven soaking because often a taller plant is in front of the spray head. Some plants need more and some need less water so plant the ones that like the same amount in the same bed. Water appropriately.
If pests still come, you can spray a few times in the spring before the pests become overwhelming. Regular spraying of the entire landscape throughout the spring months will help keep the pest problem manageable. If you are lucky, it can diminish them enough to last the rest of the summer. But it will also kill any beneficial insects as well. These insects eat harmful insects and, annoyingly, the good ones take longer to come back and help in the pest control. So, next year you may have an even greater infestation of the pests. Depending on the type of pesticide, you will need to determine frequency. For example, organic pesticides can and should be sprayed more often, even weekly and for heavy infestations. For chemical pesticides, you endanger the life of the plant and so spraying should be no more frequently than recommended on the bottle. Most suggest every two weeks, but some say monthly.
Another option and one more often recommended today is to use natural pest solutions such as Ladybug and Green Lacewing. Larvae eat large amounts of aphids and other pests. As do Praying Mantis, parasitic wasps, and frogs. Look at using natural options before constantly spraying chemicals. The chemicals not only hurt beneficial bugs but also can hurt pets, children, and our groundwater, which of course will become our drinking water. Just remember the old adage, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The common pests in Utah are: Aphids, Bores, Beetles, Mold, and Abiotic issues (watering issues, poor drainage, and poor nutrients). Approximately 99% of all bugs are beneficial and the ones eating your yard come from the 1% that are harmful. Creating a habitat for good ones will do a lot of the heavy lifting when it pertains to pest control. Having nectar plants, water, and places for them to overwinter on your property, which can include leaving the dead perennials stems until spring to clean up, will reduce your workload and create a nearly self-sustaining landscape.
In conclusion, you can save yourself a lot of frustration by taking time to get your landscape into the right sustainable environment. Improve the soil structure by adding either sand, compost or top soil to your land depending on what you lack. Plant the right plant for the space and water as needed for the plant - know your plants. And finally invite beneficial insects into your landscape. Give them habitat - food, water, and protection by planting the right plants and maintaining them so they have winter protection. In the end you will have less work and better results.