Dealing with Summer’s Garden Pests
By Kristen Smith
Pests can be such…well….PESTS in the garden. I mean, you go through all the work of picking the right plant for a location, nurturing it, watering it, trimming it, feeding it (maybe sometimes talking to it) only to find that now it’s being attacked by something. Some of us are thinking Kill Kill Kill! Personally, I tend to take a very laissez-faire approach.
Unfortunately, pests are inevitable and it’s great if you can take a laid back approach to them since more than likely they aren’t going to completely devour your plant. I’ve never had a pest completely kill a plant. July and August are probably the time of year when pests are at their worst. The days are long and hot, plants are stressed from the heat and perhaps drought-like conditions; so pests go on the offensive.
Three common pests I’m seeing outside now are:
Japanese Beetles can be bad one year and then not the next. This seems to be a bad year, especially on the roses. If you don’t have too many in your garden, the fastest and most economical way to get rid of them is to hand pick them off every few days and drop them into a jar of warm soapy water. The presence of beetles attracts more beetles, so the lower you can keep the population in your garden the better.
To hear more about Japanese Beetles, watch this:
I’m also seeing a lot of mealybugs in the garden recently. Mealybugs are one of my pest peeves! They are related to scale insects and they cause damage by sucking the juices out of its plant of choice. They are soft bodied insects. The females excrete a waxy, white, fluffy, cottony substance that protects their eggs. This cottony fluff is usually concentrated on the stems or undersides of the leaves. Overall, mealybugs don’t create too much damage unless the infestation is very severe. The best way to get rid of them is to apply a sharp stream of water. Be sure to spray underneath the foliage too since this is a favorite hiding spot. Or you could also try spraying on a solution of water and dish soap. The soap helps to suffocate the insects. There are also some stronger environmentally friendly alternatives to use such as neem oil which is a natural product extracted from the fruits and seeds of the neem tree; native to India.
Caterpillars and sawfly larvae can be problems now too. If you are noticing a lot of holes in your foliage it is probably a sign that you have an infestation of one of these pests. Sometimes they can be difficult to spot as they often hide underneath the foliage. At home, I have three Clethra plants that are reliably eaten by something every summer. I’ve never paid close enough attention to see exactly what is munching on the foliage, but the plants continue to bloom every year and smell sweet so I sort of just ignore the damage until I see it again the following summer. If you happen to see a skeletonized leaf, or a leaf with just the veins remaining, this could be a sign you have rose slug or rose sawfly. In the larval stage, the pest resembles a tiny caterpillar or slug. If you are lucky enough to see the culprits, just pick them off.
In general, to avoid severe damage by pests, the best thing you can do is make sure your plants get off to a good start is by enriching the soil with a lot of good organic matter at the time of planting, feeding occasionally and watering as needed particularly during bouts of drought. This will ensure your plants will be healthy and well established to be able to survive occasional attacks by pests.