The Inevitable Pests
It is inevitable – any gardener can attest. Look closely and you will see a garden and its pest. But what is a pest? Usually when we think of the term “pest,” we may think of insect pests. Pests also include pathogens, microbes, nematodes, or weeds. A reality in every garden and landscape is the inevitability of pests. A garden will never be pest free but properly managing a garden will decrease pest pressure – allowing your garden to naturally thrive.
In previous gardening articles, I addressed Integrated Pest Management (IPM). Simply, IPM strategies reduce pest pressure by reducing conditions that allow pests to thrive. Proper plant selection (right plant, right place) and proper maintenance significantly reduce the conditions of pest pressure to occur. If non-successful, mechanical and biological controls will reduce pests before requiring the use of chemical pesticides. Once we begin using chemical pesticides, it can result in pesticide dependency. If followed perfectly it is uncommon to have pest pressure in your garden, but there are times we need to intervene with a pesticide. Therefore, in this week’s “In the Garden, We Grow” gardening article, I want to address common organic pesticides for our gardens.
What is OMRI?
Whether gardeners are interested in organically-grown vegetables in their garden, or not, many gardeners have access to products recognized by Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI). Products with the OMRI label meet the U.S. National Organic Program standards. It is important to note that because a product is labeled “organic” does not mean it is safe for us or other insects like pollinators. This is a common misconception. Therefore, with all pesticide products, the label is the law and we must follow its application requirements.
For many backyard gardeners, there are multiple natural products we may use to manage the majority of our garden pests. Some of the commonly used products include oils, soaps, plant extracts, mineral insecticides, microbial insecticides, and natural fungicides. Many gardeners employ many different types of pesticides for their gardens. For most gardeners, when following IPM strategies, we can easily manage 95% or more of garden pests with an oil or soap, microbial insecticide, or a natural fungicide.
Neem Oil is a great example of plant-based horticultural oil. It is effective on most soft-bodied insects and scale insects. Some specific neem oil products prevent some foliar diseases.
Insecticidal soaps act relatively similar to plant-based horticultural oils – but it is important to note that we should not mix dish soap and water. This common misconception typically leads to plant death, if applied improperly.
Microbial insecticides, like Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), contain microorganisms that target specific pests. For gardeners, Bt works wonderfully against soft-bodied pests like Tomato hornworms or other pesky caterpillar or worm larvae.
Lastly, natural fungicides, like copper fungicides prevent the spread of fungal pathogens and some bacterial diseases by forming a protective layer around a leaf. Copper fungicides will not cure fungal pathogens, rather, they help prevent the spread of infection.
In the Garden, We Grow – The Pests
Florida gardens and pests are synonymous. Proper management of pests within our gardens allows us to enjoy our gardens more and work less. Scouting for pests within our gardens allows us to manage a pest problem before it becomes too severe and limits the use of pesticides. No matter how hard we may try a pesticide application may be required periodically – which is ok. When that occurs, we can be sure to do it safely for “In the Garden, We Grow.”