Spring Pest Problems

insect pestsNow that winter’s end is in sight, we can look forward to the consistently warmer weather and the explosion of emerging plant life that comes with it. While this wondrous spring event is happening it also coincides with insect pest problems. Whether you are a gardener or a commercial farmer you are very likely to encounter a number of insect pests during the spring.

Insects tend to be quite efficient creatures that are well adapted to their food sources: your plants. As a plant emerges from dormancy or germinates from a seed there will probably be a corresponding pest insect that is emerging at the same time as well. While this may be worrisome to some, it is a problem that can be managed with the right strategies.

It is almost impossible to entirely prevent any insects from damaging your plants in spring, which is actually not a problem up to a certain extent. It is important to understand the concept of “thresholds” in any setting, gardening or otherwise. Perhaps the most important step when determining a threshold before taking action is to understand whether or not the pest is indeed a serious pest. Only a handful of insects out of over a million species are considered significant agricultural pests.

The next step to take is to determine if the current or future pest population would cause significant damage to the plant.  Most plants can handle some insect damage and not be noticeably affected.

The final step before taking action is to calculate the cost. The cost of a threshold can be determined by calculating the approximate loss of the crop value versus the cost of taking action to stop the problem. This is often used in commercial agriculture and can be applied to garden settings as well. In many cases the value of a plant is subjective, such as the appearance of a plant or of produce, which may warrant a much lower threshold to trigger action against a pest.  Also, there are cases where the threshold to take action is immediate or preventive by not allowing any pests to exist on plants or produce whatsoever.

Typically action is taken in the form of insecticides to prevent or eliminate pest insects, however this is not always immediately required. Natural enemies of plant pests are often an excellent means of keeping pest insects from exceeding a threshold where the gardener or commercial grower needs to take action.  While the pests will remain, their numbers may be reduced below a threshold due to natural predators killing the pests. Also, when applicable, choosing the right varieties of plants that are naturally resistant to certain pests should be considered.

If insecticides are required it is critically important to choose the correct insecticide that corresponds to the pest. Also it is equally important to apply the insecticide correctly based on what the manufacture label states, so read the label!

Do keep in mind though, a healthy plant will always be better able to resist or recover from pest damage compared to a plant lacking adequate water, nutrients, or sunlight.

If you have any questions regarding this or other related topics please contact the Marion County Extension office at 352-671-8400.