Many of Viking clients have gardens around their homes. This article addresses how to keep your plants strong to prevent insect and pest damage. Much of the information pertains to shrubs and landscaping around your home or business”..
Insect and Arthropod Management Through April Soil Preparation
Many garden (insect and arthropod) pests can be directly attributed to soil in and around our gardens. Many garden pests overwinter beneath the soil, most times burrowing down beneath the frost line. This habit allows them to survive the cold extremes of winter. Some garden pests can survive in the soil, going into diapause a few inches under the soil. These pests may have a mechanism where they product antifreeze to survive the winter. Not that spring is approaching it is best to concentrate on the condition of the soil and preparing it for growing healthy plants. Healthy, strong and vigorous plants are more resistant to garden pest damage and the condition of the soil help produce strong pest resistant plants.
Maintain a slightly acid soil (around pH 6.5). “Most ornamental plants grown in NJ “prefer” soil pH in the range 6.1 to 6.8.” Rutgers Soil Testing Laboratory. If in doubt, have a soil analysis done through your local Extension office, or with a commercial soil test kit. Lime can be used to increase soil pH and sulfur can lower it. Maintain adequate levels of soil fertility through additions of potassium and phosphorus releasing materials, such as commercial fertilizers or animal manures. Soil testing should be done every three years to determine levels of these important nutrients. Build a biologically active, healthy soil through regular addition of organic matter, such as yard waste, compost, and manure. Till the soil in the spring to expose pests living near the surface to natural enemies and weather, and to destroy insects that have overwintered.
Plant crops and varieties that are well-suited to the soil and climate, and recommended by New Jersey Cooperative Extension. When seeding directly, use disease-free, certified seed, if available. Select for maximum insect and disease-resistance in vegetable varieties. Select healthy, sturdy transplants with well-developed root systems. Diseases and insects in young seedlings may start in greenhouses or plant beds and cause heavy losses in the garden. Buy plants from a reputable grower who can assure you that they are disease- and insect-free, or grow your own from seed.
The most effective and most important of all practices is careful observation in the garden. Many serious disease or insect problems can be halted or brought under control early by the gardener who knows what to look for and regularly visits the garden for trouble-shooting. Water in the morning so plants have time to dry before the cool evening. Drip irrigation systems prevent foliage from getting wet when watering. Use inter-plantings in the vegetable garden as opposed to solid plantings of a crop. This can slow the spread of diseases and insects, giving you more time to deal with them if they occur. Space plants properly and thin young vegetables to a proper stand. Overcrowding causes weak growth and reduces air movement, resulting in increased insect and disease problems. Keep down weeds and grass. They often harbor pests and compete for nutrients and water. Leaf and other organic mulches are extremely effective for weed control, as are inorganic weed mats, plastic, and other fabrics.
Use a mulch to reduce soil splash, which brings soil and soil-borne diseases into contact with lower leaves. Avoid injury to plants. Broken limbs, cuts, bruises, cracks, and insect damage are often the site for infection by disease-causing organisms. Stay out of the garden when the plants are wet with rain or dew to prevent spreading diseases. Keep old sacks, baskets, wooden stakes, decaying vegetables, and other rubbish, which may harbor insects and diseases, out of the garden. Staking tall flower and vegetable plants or planting them in wire cages prevents the blossoms or fruit from coming in contact with the soil. Time plantings in such a way that the majority of your crop will avoid the peak of insect infestations. For example, plant squash as early as possible to avoid borers, which lay eggs in July. Inspect plants for egg clusters, beetles, caterpillars, and other insects as often as possible. Hand-pick as many pests as you can. Avoid sprays until the population of insects has reached a critical threshold level.
Editor’s Note: William A. Kolbe, BCE is a Board Certified Entomologist for Viking Pest Control based out of Warren, NJ. He has a Bachelor’s Degree in Entomology with a minor in Ecology from the University of Delaware. He is a member of The Denville NJ Community Gardens. He can be reached at 800-618-2847 or visit www.vikingpest.com