Guarding the garden


POSTED: Friday, March 06, 2009

If you walk into your garden and feel that the hungry caterpillar from Eric Carle's storybook has paid a visit, pest control might be in order. But rather than turn to a chemical solution, consider enticing a beneficial insect to hang out in your garden, say master gardeners Brian and Imelda Cyr.




Second Saturday at the Garden

        “;Integrated Pest Management for Home Gardeners”;:

» Demonstration: 9 a.m. to noon March 14
        » Place: Oahu Urban Garden Center, Pearl City
        » Admission: Free
        » Call: 453-6050, e-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or visit www.ctahr.hawaii.edu/ougc


Ladybugs and other helpful critters can help manage unwanted garden pests. “;Ladybugs can consume 4,000 to 5,000 aphids,”; said Brian.

The Cyrs will present “;Integrated Pest Management for Home Gardeners”; demonstrations at the Pearl City Urban Garden Center next weekend as a part of the “;Second Saturday at the Garden”; program. Integrated Pest Management is defined as a sustainable approach to managing pests through the combination of biological, cultural, physical and chemical elements in an effort to minimize economic, health and environmental risks.

The session will focus on using natural products before turning to chemicals, even organic chemicals. “;We want folks to start with natural controls first and only reach for pesticides at the last resort,”; Brian said. He also hopes people will talk to their neighbors, who could “;be conducting chemical warfare in their yard.”;

Common creepy critters on the hit list are aphids, whiteflies, fruit flies, snails and slugs, scale, thrips and spider mites. Their natural predators include the praying mantis, lacewing, parasitic wasp, tachnid fly and hover fly.

“;We are not looking for total eradication,”; Brian said, as killing off all the pests would also kill off the beneficial insects that eat them. “;We definitely need a balance.”; Learning about insect habits and life cycles helps achieve that healthy balance, he explained.

“;Always start with a healthy plant,”; said Imelda. Surround them with other plants that repel insects, including green-manure crops such as buckwheat, comfrey and alfalfa that enrich the soil with nitrogen and attract beneficial insects.

“;Herbs also attract less pests,”; she added. Ants, for example, don't like the taste or smell of tansy and mint.

Pheromone baits can be used to rid a garden of flying insects, or reflective items can be set up to scare away pesky birds such as the bulbul, which likes to eat tomatoes, Brian said. Two CDs taped together and hung in a garden will dazzle the birds away from the plants.

If the pests persist, “;oftentimes you can shoot pests off with just a little water,”; Brian said. Or, go at them one on one. Cabbage loopers, for example, can be picked off and squashed by a gloved hand.

If natural methods fail, the Cyrs recommend starting out with the lowest-toxicity pesticide — something organic. “;Look for caution words like 'warning,' 'danger' and a skull and crossbones,”; and try to avoid those products, Brian said.

Since chemical pesticides increase costs, are less sustainable and unhealthy, it might be better to surrender a few battles, he said. “;It's OK to lose some plants because we learn from our mistakes. Some pest damage is acceptable. It's not like we are farmers and this is our livelihood.”;

The Cyrs say their methodology can be applied in all locations, even to container and lanai gardens, but that the exact course of action depends on the particular garden. One of the most exciting parts of gardening is “;becoming a part of the natural rhythm of things,”; Brian said. “;If there were no variables, it would be boring.”;