Green practices for protecting your yard

Green practices for protecting your yard

by Ellen Goff

Have you ever thought about having help in the yard? Beneficial insects and companion plantings might be just the help you need — and they're just two of the many strategies used for Integrated Pest Management, an alternative approach to controlling garden pests and disease.

More than 50 years ago, scientists recognized that the rampant overuse of chemical insecticides to wipe out pests wasn't working. Insects were becoming resistant to the poisons, and the pests' natural enemies, along with non-target life forms, were being killed. By eliminating nature's own systems to keep pests in check, the original pest problem was compounded.

In the 1970s, projects in California and Texas led to a set of nationally accepted practices that save money, protect the environment and reduce pesticide use.

Locally, NC Cooperative Extension commercial horticulture agent Jim Monroe sees parallels between IPM methods used in the commercial sector with those followed by homeowners. "I think some IPM is practiced by most people," Monroe says. "Pesticides cost money, and generally are used only when needed."

Unfortunately, IPM isn't available in a spray can. Gardeners need to examine and monitor the health of garden plants almost daily.

Use preventative measures to avoid developing pest and disease infestations in the first place. Plant disease-resistant varieties of flowers, vegetables, shrubs and trees, and be sure to mulch. Rotate vegetables and annual flowers to avoid growing the same crop in the same place for three years. Consider interplanting beds with plants that deter or repel a particular insect pest — such as marigolds or nasturtiums to repel whiteflies and aphids, and tansy and nicotiana to deter flying insects. Be sure to include plants in your garden that provide nectar and host the offspring of beneficial insects, bees and butterflies, such as black-eyed Susan, snapdragon and verbena.

When a problem occurs, deal with it immediately. Start treatment with remedies that are the least invasive, gradually increasing more aggressive measures to gain control of the problem. Remove the problem insects by hand if possible or with a strong stream of water and get rid of damaged leaves. If a stream of water doesn't deter a pest, try insecticidal soap spray.

Pesticide use should be the last choice when all others have failed. Use products that are least toxic to humans and beneficial organisms, and be sure you've correctly identified the pest or disease you're fighting and understand its life cycle.

Why does it matter? Because it's economically, environmentally and socially irresponsible to solve a problem with a hammer when a fly swatter will do.

Ellen Goff is a master gardener and environmental advocate. Aside from writing about and photographing plants, Ellen tends to a 3-acre landscape she shares with her husband, cat and border collie on the shores of Lake Wylie, S.C.


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