Garden View: Controlling the pests in your garden

Last month we talked about vegetable varieties for a spring garden and as soon as I mentioned how unusually warm it had been — the weather did a flip and got cold.

The challenges of a spring garden are many. On top of selecting good varieties and dealing with unpredictable weather we must also fight the pests. When considering how to control pests in the garden there are three primary methods to use: cultural, mechanical and chemical.

In the home landscape I like to recommend cultural and mechanical methods before turning to chemical controls.

Cultural controls are physical garden management practices that can reduce pests, such as crop rotation and appropriate water management.

Mechanical controls include the use of barriers, covers, high pressure water sprays and hand picking. If you must utilize chemical controls start with less harmful products like insecticidal soaps and neem oil before turning to harsh chemicals.

If you’ve planted your vegetable garden then you may already be dealing with some of these common pests such as aphids, leafminers, mites, whiteflies, and cutworms. These pests are not only common but attack a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. Due to their tiny size, apart from the cutworm, they typically go unnoticed until there is an infestation.

Monitor leaves for the appearance of pinprick size spots and mottling as tell-tale signs of these pests at work.

Two applications of insecticidal soap five days apart should control them.

Neem oil can also be used on the mites. Cutworms are not small but may go unnoticed as they hide under debris during the day and are only active at night.

Typically, they will start chewing where they are “cutting” your plant down right at the soil surface. Often the best control is to protect the tender stems of transplants with a collar of cardboard or foil.

While leafminers create visible damage to the leaves, they aren’t that harmful to the plant.

Aphids are attracted to the color yellow and can easily be trapped in a yellow dish filled with water.

There will also be larger pests like beetles, borers and worms that will be attracted to your delicious plants, but these are easily spotted and can be removed by hand or sprayed off with water. Pest like the cucumber beetle and melonworm can do series damage is left unchecked.

It’s important to note that the term worm is used loosely in this context. Most pests that are referred to as worms are not truly worms, but the larval stage of either moths or butterflies.

Soaps and oils are not as effective on these pests.

Look for these products to control “worms”: BT (Bacillus thurengiensis), Spinosad and Pyrethrum. A key aspect to keeping your garden pest free is frequent monitoring in order to control pests before you develop an infestation. Throw in a weekly night scouting to look for those ones that are only active in the dark. Pests like to hide, so don’t forget to check the underside of the leaves and at the soil surface.

For more information check out the “Vegetable Resources” section on Aggie Horticulture at: https://aggiehorticulture.tamu.edu/vegetable/.