Now spring is in full boom many of us have been tempted into the garden to weed and prune neglected winter plants. The garden is thriving with helpful wildlife like ladybirds, bees and worms but insects like ants, aphids, slugs and snails are rarely a delight for a keen gardener. But before you reach for the insecticide it’s important to note that not all insects are bad. Many insects feed off pest species and some help pollinate plants. For the sake of the environment, never spray chemicals without knowing what it is for and without identifying the pest problem. There are some simple pest control measures you can undertake yourself which don’t involve chemicals.
It’s worth noting that healthy plants have the ability to fight off pests and diseases before they incur major damage. In some cases spraying chemicals onto a healthy plant may cause undue stress. With early diagnosis it is sometimes possible to control a pest by hand-picking or removing damaged material and destroying it before the problem gets worse.
One of the most common garden pests is the aphid. These soft, green, pink, black or grey insects suck sap. They usually congregate on new shoot tips and buds but sometimes on roots and leaves. Aphids distort flowers, cause new buds to die and can spread plant diseases. Squash them as soon as you spot them or remove them with a strong squirt of water. Aphid populations build up quickly in spring and summer so check plants often.
Another reason to keep the aphid population down is because ants collect the honeydew from aphids. Ants can often be spotted crawling over plants riddled with aphids and are known to farm aphids. Ants can be a pest on lawns because they create heaps of fine soil when making their underground nests. They can be controlled by treating with ant killer.
The song thrush will crack snails open on a rock and feast on the tender contents, but sometimes a cheeky blackbird will swoop in and steal the bounty from under his beak. Birds also eat insects of all kinds from trees, lawns and bushes but remember they are also partial to berries so beware if you like to grow raspberries or blackberries.
Bees are very important in the garden. Most bees are busiest during the warmer part of the day so to avoid wiping them out the best time to spray insecticides is either early morning or late evening when bees are least active. Wasps strip wood from fences to build nests and can be very persistent when you are trying to relax and enjoy a meal in the garden. Wasps eat flies, spiders and other insects but if you spot a wasp nest it may be worth considering removing it before the wasp population gets out of hand.
Insects can help your plants battle with damaging creatures. Ladybird larvae can devour 500 aphids in its lifetime, plus it will also eat mealy bugs, mites and scales. Unfortunately native ladybirds are threatened by the invasive harlequin ladybird which eats ladybird larvae. Ground beetles, parasitic wasps and spiders are also gardener’s friends but can be killed by the overuse of chemical sprays.
Chemical Safety When Spraying Garden Insecticides
- Read the label carefully and follow the manufacture’s instructions carefully.
- Do not overspray. Overdosing does not give better results and can often be more damaging.
- Wear a long-sleeved shirt, long trousers, rubber gloves, goggles and other protective clothing as indicated on the label.
- Spray on a calm day when no rain is expected.
- Keep people and pets well out of the way until spraying has finished and dried. Make sure ponds are covered to protect fish from chemical poisoning.
- Do not smoke or eat while using garden chemicals.
- Don’t spray in confined spaces such as a greenhouse without breathing apparatus.
- Wash your hands and face immediately after spraying.