DUNEDIN — “Florida has a lot of pests, and we get a lot of exotics that come in,” Pinellas County Extension agent emeritus Pam Brown advised.
She shared practical ways to limit the potential damage from those uninvited opportunists that plague vegetable gardens during an Oct. 9 workshop attended by members and guests of the Dunedin Community Garden.
The horticulturist described a system of integrated pest management, which employs both economical and environmentally sound methods of pest control.
By understanding the life cycles of common pests, coordinated, sensible practices may be implemented to reduce potential harm, particularly from the use of chemicals, to people and the environment. IPM methods can work for home and workplace situations as well as in the garden.
Brown outlined a four-step approach, beginning with the use of good cultural practices that include following guidelines for planting dates and selecting disease-resistant, Florida-recommended varieties. Practicing good sanitation also is important; infected plants and debris should be removed, along with any weeds. Sooner is better than later.
As the plants grow, visually inspect them daily or at least twice a week. Check for insects and/or evidence of their damage, including stunted growth or chewed, yellow or brown-spotted leaves. Don’t neglect to look at the underside of the leaves and at the soil line, Brown stressed.
If the plant’s health is declining for no obvious reason, examine the roots for rot or nematode damage.
If there are symptoms of distress, determine the probable cause: insects, disease, poor cultural practices or even sunburn. Identify any insects present and determine whether they’re beneficial or harmful. Choose a method of control, if necessary. That might be as simple as hand-picking the pests or washing them off with a hose.
“Aphids are stupid,” said Brown, because they can’t seem to figure out how to climb back up the plant.
Monitor the results to see if the situation is improving or getting worse. Decide when or if further treatment is needed. Brown expressed an appreciation for gardening organically, with a preference for using neem oil, a naturally occurring pesticide found in seeds from the neem tree; insecticidal soaps; or other natural solutions.
“Garlic is a great insect repellant,” she said. Just grind it up and mix with water for a spray.
And “don’t waste your money on ladybugs,” which are likely to be too old or diseased. What’s more, they tend to fly away.
Practice crop rotation and regularly amend the garden with compost to help get rid of insects; plan weeks ahead to solarize the soil prior to planting to kill not only weed seeds, but nematodes, too. Also for the latter, “Grow French marigolds in the summer,” the speaker advised.
In addition, plant flowers, butterfly plants, to attract beneficial insects and pollinators. Suggestions included pentas, salvias, zinnias and nasturtiums.
Butterflies come from caterpillars, and care must be exercised when choosing options for remedial treatment in order to preserve them and numerous beneficial insects. Just one percent of the insect population is harmful, Brown assured before sharing a sentiment from a favorite teacher: “Protecting our beneficial insects is important, or we inherit their job.”
The good insects usually arrive a week or two after the bad ones appear, she added. When hand removal of harmful insects or affected plants isn’t sufficient, treat only what’s necessary and repeat only as needed.
The speaker distributed handouts listing resources on topics such as insect identification, composting and soil solarization. The information comes from the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences in cooperation with the Extension office and is accessible at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu.
The gardening coach also offered fact sheets on Florida gardening, soil and fertilizer, container gardening and a gardening blog, which may be found at http://pamperedgardeners.com.
Brown is scheduled to return for a Dunedin Community Garden workshop in January on growing tomatoes. The programs are free and open to the public.
For details on the organization, go to www.dunedincommunitygarden.com.