Gardening 101: Keep Pests Out of Your Garden and Orchard

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Integrating pest management into your garden from seedling to harvest can help ensure a successful crop.

At the Community Teaching Garden in Phelan, plants grow in a greenhouse, on a hydro plant wall, raised beds, and a small fruit tree orchard. Keeping pests away, such as small critters, bad plant-eating bugs, and weeds, is first and foremost. Unwanted plant-eating critters can wreak havoc in any garden space. At the Teaching Garden, the raised beds have a sheet of chicken wire placed under the wooden frames of the bed and a companion cage fitted on top of the frame constructed from PVC pipe, chicken wire, and bird netting, which helps to ensure squirrels, rabbits, gophers, birds or any other little critters do not eat the plants.

However, this protection fails to screen out insects that can eat and destroy plants and trees. Some plant-eating bugs commonly found in a garden are aphids, tomato bugs, and spider mites; these are bad bugs. If you find these bad plant-eating bugs, the first step is to pick the bugs off if you can see them.

The second step to remove bugs is with water by washing down the plant with a light sprayer from top to bottom and under the leaves. Make sure to do this only during the cool part of the day close to sunset so the sun doesn’t burn the plants. Bugs eat at the tops of plants and lay eggs more toward the bottom, so try to wash away bugs and eggs. Next, try adding good bugs, such as Ladybugs and Praying Mantis, to the garden to eat the bad bugs. Ladybugs can eat up to 60 aphids a day. And the praying mantis will eat almost any bug, including tomato bugs and spider mites, and can eat up to six large insects daily.

If all else fails, try using a homemade organic pest spray. Spider mites can be killed with neem oil which can be purchased at a hardware store in the plant nursery section. Tomato bugs can be killed with diluted soapy water such as dawn dish soap, and aphides can also be eradicated this way. Just remember to spray during the cooler parts of the day in the evening.

Plant sickness can be a pest as well. Plants can become sickly from over-watering, attracting bugs that prey on weak and rotting plants. Create a hydro zone by grouping plants together that use the same amount of water and only water plants according to what those plants need. Over-watering can cause fungus and root rot, attracting ” decomposers ” to eat your plant because bad bugs come to the weakest plants first. Some signs your plant is over-watered include leaves falling off and moldy leaves, stems, or flowers. Brown leaf tips are also a sign of over-watering, as is root rot which may produce a foul order and grey or slimy roots. Wilting can occur from water stress from over-watering and under-watering.

When it comes to fruit trees, cutting old black plastic plant pots down the middle and wrapping them upside down around the bottom part of the tree can keep squirrels from climbing up.

If you own a greenhouse, looking for and blocking any holes leading to the inside that mice and squirrels could squeeze through and cause havoc with seedlings or plants growing inside is essential.

Grass and weeds can be the biggest enemy of any gardener. Where there is water, weeds and unwanted grass can grow, so try using a drip system, only watering the plant’s root system, limiting the amount of water available for unwanted weeds and grass. While it is important to start with weed-seed-free and grass-seed-free soil (clean soil), there are some things you can do to stop the problem if it starts. Pull any weed by hand as soon as possible. Solarize any area taken over with grass or weeds by covering it with dark plastic for six weeks letting the sun “burn” the unwanted seeds, which can no longer germinate.

Spraying the area with vinegar can kill unwanted invasive grass and weeds by using four parts vinegar and one part water in a sprayer, then allowing the hot sun to kill them. However, don’t spray on plants you wish to keep alive; avoid spraying on a windy day. Sheet mulching around your garden beds or any area you wish to keep grass and weeds away is a big job but worth it.

The idea is to lay unwaxed cardboard down around vegetable beds or any area you don’t want grass or weeds to grow, wet the cardboard to hold it in place, then add 3 inches of mulch to cover the cardboard. The heat, lack of water, and lack of sunlight will kill the grass or weeds. Some even put the cardboard right over the grass or weeds after cutting the unwanted invasive back with a weed eater. It should die if you block out the sun and don’t give the area water.

The best way to get plants to become fully mature or make it to harvest is to stay on top of pest problems and know what to do fast. Otherwise, critters, bugs, unwanted invasive pests, and sickness can take over and ruin your efforts. Be diligent, don’t give up, use these tips and enjoy your harvest.

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