To spray or not to spray, Part I

Learning when to treat for pests can be confusing and trying to decide what spray, granule and powder will do the trick is difficult.  Chemical manufacturers want us to rely on their instant remedies and would have us believe a beautiful landscape is only a sprinkle or spray away.  If you have fallen prey to their propaganda, you can break the habit… I did.  Natural methods of control are always my first course of action.

If you have a plant, you will have bugs:

On your morning walk-a-bout, you notice the aphids sucking on your new hibiscus buds.  An alarm sounds as you visualize the damage they will do.  Instead of reacting, this is the time to step back and think.  Yes, aphids have the “bad bug” wrap but to a lady-bug, they’re lunch.  If we react and grab a chemical, we get rid of the aphids (for the moment), but, we have also damaged the ecosystem.  The chemical we spray today, has residual effects.  We might as well be posting  “keep out” signs in our garden as a warning to any beneficial insects that may happen by (if they weren’t caught up in the toxic plume from the aphid assault).  We want to invite beneficial insects into our landscape by providing a healthy and diverse habitat.

Be pro-active:

Just before the sun comes up, me, my coffee, and my pruners take a walk.  I look for new blooms, butterfly eggs and caterpillars.  Since most of my stuff is in containers, I give them a spin so they grow even.  Little things really.  It’s a peaceful way to start my day, but by doing this, I know my plants.

Observing and becoming familiar with your landscape gives you an advantage when it comes to pests because you will spot a potential problem early.

Quarantine your plants:

Now, to all but the most untrained eye this plant (below) had to appear sick before it was purchased but, it was purchased anyway. As for the retailer, I really can’t imagine being so hard up for a buck that a plant like this was for sale.  Anyway…


I walked into an account and I spotted this lovely specimen (above) sitting on the patio table.  After the initial shock wore off, I approached the homeowner and found out it was a birthday gift!   She graciously accepted the “gift” and when she got home, she put it in her sink (I’m really surprised it made it that far).When she woke up the next morning there were snails on her cutting board!  I guess that’s when it was moved outside… next to her Cattleya!  Besides the snails, the plant was loaded with mealy, the best remedy for this poor thing was to put it out of its misery.

Shopping discount racks at the garden center can be fun, who doesn’t love a good buy?  That bargain might be an invitation to unwanted pest problems if you don’t know what to look for.  Sometimes you can spot a pest but sometimes it may take day’s or weeks before a problem comes to the surface.

Before you bring a plant home or if you get one for a gift, inspect it. Check the soil and roots. Look for pests that might be hiding underneath the foliage. If you didn’t quarantine your purchase, your other plants can be infected.

Choose the most natural method first:

Some pests can be controlled by picking them off your plants or out of your soil.  One of my clients has Sri Lanka weevils (see header image). They don’t have any natural enemies and the only known chemical remedy contains Bifenthrin which is highly toxic to aquatic organisms.  I remove them by hand and squash them.  If you can’t bring yourself to do the squashing thing, you can drop them in a bucket of soapy water.  I do this for snails and caterpillars (be sure they are unwanted caterpillars).Removing affected foliage can deter the spread of fungus.  It also works if you have leafminers.  Spraying insects with a steady stream of water from your hose also works.  If it’s a constant battle, you might consider getting rid of the plant.  I have a Spinach tree that always gets a bad case of white-fly.  I started it from a cutting and when it’s in bloom, the Longwings love it.  I can’t bring myself to throw it away, so this poor thing is ritually cut back to a nubbin about twice a year.

By being pro-active, getting to know your plants, an employing natural methods of control, you can be sure you wont be doing more harm than good.

In conclusion, when I’m out and about and spot some aphids on my hibiscus, If I’m in the mood to deal with it, I will find a safe place for my coffee cup and head for the water hose.  I figure the left-overs can be lunch for a wasp.

Use pesticides carefully and only as a last resort

Even organic pesticides can kill beneficial  insects either by being caught up in the spray or by ingesting foliage that has been sprayed.    Before you spray, know what the ingredients are and be aware of the side-effects.  For a list of the least toxic pesticides refer to…

To spray or not to spray Part II

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