Gardening in South Carolina can be quite challenging, no matter the season. Each summer, I keep my fingers crossed that we get a decent squash harvest before the squash vine borers decimate the plants. The greens in the winter garden are a favorite food of several caterpillars so I must keep a watchful eye on the collards and kale.
While it’s important to observe for insect pests, it’s also important to realize that only 3 percent of insects worldwide are known to be pests. That means 97 percent are beneficial or simply co-exist with humans, causing no harm. Nature has its own system of checks and balances that can be thrown out of whack by human actions. Here are some tips for preventing and managing pests in an environmentally responsible manner.
Think before you plant: Some plants are more prone to pests than other. For example, Indian Hawthorne is prone to a fungal leaf spot. Select plants that don’t have many pest problems and in some cases, are pest-resistant. Keeping your plants healthy will also make them less susceptible to pest problems.
Learn the “good guys”: Beneficial insects and mites can be predators, parasitoids, or pollinators. Parasitoids and predators play an important role in controlling the “bad guys” and pollinators transfer pollen that is essential for the production of seeds and fruit in many plant species. Encouraging beneficials can help maintain that natural system of checks and balances in your yard.
Identify the problem: It’s imperative you identify your pest correctly. First, to ensure it is actually a pest and second, to select the most appropriate control.
Use nonchemical approaches and least-toxic pesticides when appropriate: Some pest problems may be resolved without chemicals. There were a few large hornworms on my tomatoes this year that were easy to hand pick. If chemicals are needed, select insecticidal soaps, horticultural oils, and Bt ( Bacillus thuringiensis ) products when appropriate.
Avoid routine applications: Spot treating affected plants rather than using blanket applications can reduce the amount of pesticides used and decrease the chance of pests developing resistance.
The label is the law: Be sure to read and follow pesticide label instructions for safe use and disposal. The label is the law.