All landscapes require maintenance to some degree, and few are rarely trouble free. That’s especially true in the Austin area where soil geological areas dictate much of what you should and shouldn’t do in the garden. We’ve gathered some resources to help you understand and manage plant problems and maintenance schedules. Between insects, diseases, weeds, and unwanted wildlife, gardening can be tricky!
Use Integrated Pest Management (IPM)
We share our gardens with a multitude of insects, spiders, mites and other arthropods. Your idyllic Garden of Eden is actually more of a Jurassic Park where multi-legged creatures feed on our plants and each other, or play a part in returning plant materials back to the soil. Managing pests is a key component of potential plant problems and maintenance.
Not all insects or mites are plant pests. Most are either of no direct impact on our landscape and gardens or may be beneficial in one way or another. So having six or eight legs doesn’t necessarily warrant a death sentence. Our focus is often on those insects that damage our plants but efforts to control them can have unintended consequences to our plants, beneficial insects, and the environment.
Integrated Pest Management Steps
As a first step (and the foundation of ecological pest control), manage the environment to prevent pests from becoming a threat. This may mean developing a lawn or garden ecosystem that attracts beneficial insects who then prey upon pest insects. Cultural practices, such as rotating between different crops, selecting pest-resistant varieties, and planting pest-free rootstock, have also proven extremely effective in mitigating the threat of pests. Likewise, some soil-management practices boost plant defense mechanisms, making plants more resistant and/or less attractive to pests.
2. Monitor and Identify
If an insect has taken residence in your garden, start by asking whether is it a pest or not. Begin with an accurate identification of the “suspect.”
3. Set Action Thresholds
Should it prove to be a pest, we can then ask if the damage warrants control efforts. More often than not, we simply tolerate a minor level of damage.
4. Use Least Damaging Strategy of Control
If pest damage is deemed unacceptable, then we make a pest control plan. Choose effective, less risky pest controls first, including physical controls, such as squashing pests or removing highly-infected plants. Insecticidal soap or pheromones (that disrupt pest mating) may also be less-toxic options. If further monitoring shows that these methods are not working, we may then ask which pesticides are labeled and effective in controlling the pest. Consider their toxicity, persistence in the environment, and potential for damaging beneficial insects or other secondary undesirable effects. Always choose the safest, most effective, and most targeted product with the least danger of secondary effects. Finally, inquire about the proper timing and application of the product. Misapplication can mean poor results, harm the environment, and can waste your time and money. Broad spraying of non-specific pesticides is a last resort and generally not recommended.
If you have questions about pests, Ask a Master Gardener. Digital images can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org. For more-complex pest questions, the Hotline will refer you to Entomologist Wizzie Brown.