What is Scouting for Pests?
One of the first steps to successful pest management is monitoring for pest populations. Monitoring, a crucial task for controlling damaging pest populations, is known as scouting in the landscape industry. Scouting for pests is simply searching for insects, diseases, and environmental problems. Take advantage of professional scouting techniques in order to correctly identify and treat pest problems.
First, scouting for pests requires awareness of what a normal, healthy plant looks like. This knowledge allows the gardener to hone in on abnormalities. Unusual growth or plant damage serves as a clue that a problem is brewing. The more one scouts in the lawn, landscape, and vegetable garden, the faster abnormalities and unusual plant growth will be noticed. Catching pest problems early enables the gardener to quickly respond to pest populations before they turn into an infestation becoming difficult to treat.
How to Scout
To move beyond scanning for abnormalities, flip leaves over randomly as many insect species lay their eggs on the undersides. Eggs and young insects are frequently found close to the interior and bottom of the plant. Easy to chew and digest, insects often feed on the soft succulent growing tips of new shoots.
Focus along the edges of your planting beds, yards, or fields as this is an area where incoming insects are often found. In greenhouse situations, scout along doors, screens and along walkways. People often bring insects into an area and transport pests around the garden, landscape, or greenhouse.
Where to Scout
- Soft growing tips
- Older interior leaves
- Undersides of leaves
- Stem and branch joints
- Along leaf midrib
- Along planting edges
A 15 X magnification hand lens, also called a sight glass, enables the home gardener to see small pests such as thrips and mites. When working outside, stash a small hand lens in a pocket or wear it on a lanyard. This ensures the hand lens is always handy when pest problems are noticed. Purchase a sight glass/hand lens online. If availability is lacking, search for a handheld jeweler’s loop.
Other useful scouting tools include
- Pruning shears for removing and taking a closer look at leaves
- Small notepad to write down findings
- White sheet of paper to shake pests off plants to take a closer look
- Trowel or shovel for examining roots
How Often to Scout
When temperatures are warm, venture into the landscape weekly as pest populations rapidly grow in warm, hot, and humid weather. In the cooler season the intentional practice of scouting typically needs to be performed every couple of weeks. Insect development and their growth rate is highly dependent on temperature.
In addition, frequency of scouting depends on what you are trying to grow and the purpose. Young bedding plants or seedlings need scouting multiple times a week. A month or more is sufficient for mature healthy trees in the landscape. Food crops need monitoring at least weekly and anytime unusual growth occurs.
Once insect pests or suspected disease are found, the next step is identification. Furthermore, new gardeners often confuse beneficial insects with harmful pest insects. Many County Extension Offices offer plant clinics where Master Gardener volunteers or County Extension Agents can identify the pest and determine if control is necessary. Identification is a crucial step in developing a control plan. Contact your local County Extension Office for plant clinic availability.