What’s bugging you?

Lisa K. Hair
Contributing writer
Roses

What’s bugging your plants right now? Webworms, Bagworms, Spider Mites, and Aphids are all enjoying our little hot spell lately, and I’ve had numerous questions asked of me about how to kill them. Some people are just buying the strongest chemicals they can and spraying away without stopping to think about the safest and most efficient way to rid themselves of their six and eight legged enemies.

Stop. Just stop and think for a moment. What are you wanting to accomplish by eradicating these creatures? Are you wanting a better Pecan harvest? Are you needing more tomatoes? Are you trying to save your evergreens from becoming naked? Consider this- if you kill ALL the bugs in your yard, how will the flowers get pollinated? How are apples and peaches going to bear fruit? And how are the neighboring birds going to eat?

Let me tell you a little story. Back when I was a novice gardener, I loved growing roses. Big, bold, beautiful ones. At one time, I had 55 rose bushes in my front yard, and I live on a small city lot! I was introduced to a miracle chemical I’ll call liquid X. Liquid X had a lot going for it. It would kill aphids, spider mites, and thrips on my beauties, and also eradicated black spot and mildew diseases. The best news was that it was also a systemic, simply meaning it stuck around inside the plant for a while and kept on killing. I was hooked!

Then, I got a gorgeous Crabapple tree that had huge fruits on it, and I immediately wanted to make some crabapple jelly like my mom used to make. I was concerned though, that I didn’t know if it had been sprayed with X while it was in the nursery. No one there knew if it had been, or when it would be safe to use the fruit from it. Was it one year? Two? When was it ever going to be safe to eat? I started realizing that in my quest for perfect roses, I didn’t know anything at all about X, and the potential problems stemming from its use.

This was way back in the early 90’s before most people even knew how to work a computer, let alone know what Google was, so I had to start digging into what other ways there might be to control these little beasts. I read books and articles, went to garden shows, and asked fellow gardeners lots of questions.

Well, I eventually discovered that I was doing a lot of damage to the environment, and so I decided to stop spraying altogether. I was naturally upset when all my plants looked a bit eat up and worn out, so I started feeding them instead of spraying them, and slowly but surely, I started getting healthier plants. I then noticed something pretty cool. I had lots of bugs, but because I had read so much about insects, I realized I had more beneficial insects that I did pests.

Roses

Aphids were being eaten by Ladybugs, Praying Mantis were eating grasshoppers, and parasitic wasps were laying eggs on tomato hornworms so the young wasps would have a free meal when they hatched! And I never spent a dime on insecticide. The balance of nature had been restored, and I was fascinated. I learned later that if you provide the right environment for the beneficial insects, they will do your dirty work for you for free.

This process is called Integrated Pest Management. Since it has such a long name, it is usually abbreviated as IPM. I practice IPM now by planting a few native plants in my beds that are host plants for the good bugs. If I happen to see an outbreak of mites or aphids, I simply turn my water wand on high and position it to spray under the leaves, which disrupts the life cycle of the bad bug. Kind of like insect birth control if you think about it.

The only thing I use now is Bt. Also known as Dipel, it is a bacteria that you spray on plants that have webworms and bag worms to infect the little darlings with a disease that makes it impossible for them to digest food, so they starve to death eating the bacteria. I use it with caution, because it will kill all caterpillars, including Monarch and Swallowtail butterfly caterpillars too.

So, put away liquids X, Y, and Z, and let IPM do all your work for you! That will give you…

Happy Gardening!

Caterpillar

Lisa K Hair is a local Master Gardener with a degree in Horticulture from OSU/OKC, and was the campus landscaper for OBU for 18 years. She is also on the Shawnee Beautification Committee.