Yesterday I wrote about the reasons why electronic bug zappers should not be used in the yard or garden for insect control. One of the biggest problems with these devices is the do not distinguish between harmful and beneficial insects. In one evening they can easily kill 10,000 insects effectively destroying the balance in your yard. Less insects mean less insect predators giving other more destructive insects the chance to gain a good foot hold in your yard and garden so essentially creating more of a problem than originally existed. Any form of insect control that kills insects indiscriminately creates the same problems. The first step in insect control is proper identification. Once identified as a garden foe then use the least damaging method of control possible. How can damaging insects be controlled?
- Encourage insect eating birds (eg. Purple Martins), bats, toads, spiders, ladybugs and frogs in and around your garden. Install both bird houses, bird feeders and one or more bat houses. Provide few toad houses or hiding spots as well. While harmful or poisonous spiders should be controlled, encourage any beneficial spider by providing little nooks and crannies where they can spin their webs. Provide one or more water sources for birds and bats. Control any mosquito larvae problem with water sources by changing daily or if larger use a couple of rosy red minnows that will feed on the mosquito larvae.
- Manual removal continues to be one of the most effective methods of insect control for certain insects. Inspect your garden in the early dawn hours when damaging insects like the Japanese Beetle are sluggish. Knock them into a pail with a bit of soapy water.
- Make a solution of 2-3 drops liquid dish soap, 2-3 drops vegetable oil in 1 quart of water. Put this in a spray bottle. Use it discriminately against insects that are harder to manually remove.
- Keep a few weeds. Surprisingly the very weeds you don't want quite often are edible but more importantly they serve as natural weed control. Last year I left 2 pigweed plants in with the sweet and hot peppers. Apparently the insects preferred the pigweed to the pepper plants which was fine with me.
- Use companion plantings such as certain herbs with certain vegetables to control pests that don't like the herb but would normally damage the vegetable. Plant petunias specifically pink petunias with beans, squashes and peas to repel the Mexican bean beetle, potato bug and squash bug. Marigolds also act as natural pest control.
- Control slugs (mollusc not an insect), earwigs and pill bugs using finely crushed egg shells or diatomous earth as well as removing decaying vegetation from around the house and in the garden beds.
- Observe your gardens at various times of the day to catch any insect infestations before they become a problem.