The good, the bad and the bugly: Knowing good insects from bad can keep your garden healthy

Monday, May 27, 2019 - 10:47
  • A lady bird beetle scavenges for food on an African violet leaf inside the Mann Leiser Memorial Greenhouses public greenhouse at Russian Jack Springs Park. Fran Durner / ADN archive 2007

While we are out there working hard to grow a beautiful garden in just a few short months, the creepy crawlers are munching away at our bounty. It can be so frustrating to find holes and sticky slime all over your pristine vegetables and flowers. Instead of spraying bug killers all over a garden we plan to ingest, consider creating a garden that is full of all sorts of bugs that can help us in this endeavor. Some of the bugs are pests that destroy our plants while others east the plant-eating bugs. I can go for that! Some of these insects are pollinating our fruit trees, and the microscopic creatures, bacteria, fungi in the soil are doing a wonderful service to our garden.

Creating a garden that is ecologically balanced is the goal for the serious gardener who understands chemically attacking these pests can destroy the pollinators that are so desperately needed to pollinate fruits and vegetables. One in every three bites of our food is dependent on pollinators, so please consider them and stop killing them with sprays unintentionally.

In nature, predators tend to attack the easiest prey. The same is true with bugs. These smart creatures will go after plants that are stressed from too little or too much water, hard compacted soil, or improper nutrition and pH. Growing healthy plants in a healthy soil is what is needed — along with sunshine. Pests and diseases let us know that our garden is not optimal and therefore easy prey.

Companion planting in the garden can deter pests. Onions and garlic are not liked by beetles and spider mites. White moths are offended by celery — who knew! Planting flowers around your vegetables not only helps deter pests, it draws in pollinators. Stronger smelling flowers and herbs can somewhat hide the chemicals that attract your bugs to feed on certain plants. Aphids — which I detest and have a million of because of my birch trees — are attracted to nasturtiums. Aphids will want to leave your veggies alone if a nasturtium is around. Nasturtiums also discourage squash bugs. Ladybugs love aphids and will gorge on them. Ladybugs are available now at the greenhouses for purchase. Planting marigolds around your cabbage, brussels sprouts, broccoli and cauliflower can help prevent cabbage worms from attacking these plants and robbing you of an appetizing looking harvest. The sage plant can help deter cabbage white butterflies that deposit green larvae that have a voracious appetite. Rotating your crops throws these little buggers off. Row covers can help prevent an infestation of flying destructive insects. Look under leaves for eggs that are planted and remove the leaf or crush them. I pick up all the leaf rollers that are found on the ground and deposit them in the trash so they do not go into the soil.

I would be remiss not to mention the birds that live in and around our gardens and eat thousands of bugs every day. In fact, the more bugs you have, the more birds that like living near you … bonus. I love my birds and they can have all the bugs they want.

The struggle is real to be a gardener. We have three big months to get it on in the garden and we cannot be deterred by a few bugs. As we gear up for the season, let’s be aware of all living things that depend on spring and summer to thrive, especially the pollinators and give them a break. Keep your plants in peak health and watered sufficiently. Give a little for a few munched-on leaves. Spiders are out there trying to help catch a few of these bugs and we need their help.

Our Cooperative Extension Service has a bug expert in integrated pest management and you can contact them and ask any questions about your pest problems. The statewide IPM Coordinator is Casey Matney, PhD and Casey can be reached at [email protected] or (907) 262-5824. If you have a specific bug, you can bring in the bug for identification.

Garden of the week

Garden of the week for residential and business will start up again as soon as our gardens grow enough to enjoy and gardeners have had a chance to clean up after winter. Here are some guidelines for nominations of garden of the week:

Send your choice to [email protected]

The garden must be visible from the road while driving or walking by. This is not a garden tour, and we ask you to please respect your neighbors’ privacy.

The gardens are picked a week in advance and photos are taken with homeowners’ permission by the Star. A permission slip is signed with address and name and obtained by Greater Eagle River Garden Club.

A sign is placed in the yard identifying the garden for one week Wednesday to Wednesday and will be retrieved at the end and given to the next homeowner nominated.

Pride of ownership and yard care is important to beautify our town and your participation is greatly appreciated. Thank you so much.

Chris Wood is a certified master gardener from Eagle River. Email her at [email protected]

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