GARDEN VIEW: Prevention is key to garden success

The heat is blazing, but now is the time to be thinking about that fall vegetable garden so I wanted to share some insights from Texas A& M Horticulturist, Dr. Joseph Masabni.

So often by the time we notice problems in our vegetable garden, it is too late to remedy the situation. Which is why I couldn’t agree more with Masabni than when he said, “Being proactive is better than being reactive.”

He added “Knowing what you’re up against, having a battle plan and the right weapons to fight back takes vigilant scouting and timely treatments that will kill or deter pest bugs and/or eggs and larvae.”

Masabni said it’s important to treat plants to kill pest insects and curb infestations throughout the life of the plant. Whether you prefer organic or conventional pesticides is up to you, just use something.

Insect pests can stunt plant growth and introduce diseases that can kill the plant or damage fruit.

“You have to understand that pests are going to be an issue at some point. It’s really just a matter of when and how bad,” he said. “The key to success is to be in the garden every day, scouting and being ready to fight any bugs that want to feed on your plants.”

The AgriLife Extension Integrated Pest Management Field Guide is a good resource for identifying pests and beneficial insects typically found on specific garden vegetables.

There are a wide range of insect pests that can negatively impact production or kill plants, he said. Stinkbugs, aphids, spider mites, fruit worms, corn ear worms, grasshoppers, cucumber beetles, tomato hornworms and squash bugs are common pests year after year.

Nematodes are a hidden pest that live in the soil and attack plant roots and kill plants, Masabni said.

Pests negatively impact vegetable production by sucking and chewing on plants or as vectors for diseases.

Aphids suck on leaves and stems while stinkbugs suck on fruit and stems, Masabni said. Grasshoppers will eat entire leaves and corn earworms feast on fruit like tomatoes, peppers and ears of corn. Some insects, such as the cucumber beetle, are more dangerous because the damage is seen a month after they visited the plant as a viral disease, he said.

Common signs of pest problems include plants that are stunted or not growing properly, deformed or damaged leaves, yellowed or light in color, and wilted or droopy. The key is vigilant monitoring and action.

Masabni said small gardens can be protected by manually killing adult pests, larvae and eggs, but it takes close inspection of each plant on a regular basis.

I recommend investing in a hand-lens with at least 10x magnification to inspect leaves when they show symptoms of discoloration or wilting.

Many times, the pest is not visible to the naked eye.

To try and prevent loss from pests and diseases this season, Dr. Masabni recommends “buying a quality backpack sprayer and at least three fungicides and three insecticides before you plant another seed or seedling.”

“Start your spray regimen early, especially when the plants make their first flower since this is the stage insects like squash vine borers or squash bugs become active,” he said.

Apply sprays to transplants upon planting or seedlings once they’ve emerged, Masabni said. Spray plants with the mix every 7 to 14 days depending on the weather. If it’s rainy spray every seven days; less often when it’s dry.

Masabni uses organic fungicides and insecticides. Organic fungicides that have worked for him include Neem Oil, Actinovate or a Bordeaux mixture of copper, lime and water. He recommends Spinosad, Bt or any horticultural oil as organic insecticides.

Fungicides and insecticides can be mixed and applied at the same time, he said, but check labels and/or conduct a jar test first. In a jar test, add both products to water and shake well and watch to see if the products bind together, Masabni said. If they bind, don’t mix them.

Having and using a variety of fungicides and pesticides will decrease bugs’ ability to build up resistance to any one treatment, he said. So, switch up the fungicide/ pesticide mix every third treatment.

Many pests hide and/or lay eggs on the underside of leaves, so it’s important to drench the plant, he said.

Wash fresh produce using cool, running water.

Produce that has a thick skin like potatoes and carrots can be scrubbed with a brush.

“You have to spray something if you want a crop,” he said. “During my research trials, I got 10% of the potential crop from plants that didn’t receive any spray treatments.”

Check out the Aggie Horticulture website for more resources on growing a fall vegetable garden.

This article was adapted from “What’s eating my vegetable garden?” written by Adam Russell for Morning Ag Clips.

Ashley Gregory is the Horticulturalist for Hidalgo County with Texas A& M AgriLife Extension Service. She can be reached at the Hidalgo County Extension Office at (956) 383-1026 or by email at ahgregory@ag.tamu.edu.