Natural Pest Control: From Ants to White Flies
Ants: Ants turn over the dirt to mix the soil in your garden. This beneficial action is counterbalanced by an ant's willingness to attack intruders. Ants herd aphids, scales, and mealybugs for their secretions. They will defend their herds against all predators and should be kept to a minimum if you plan on using predator bugs to eat garden pests. Diatomaceous earth is a powdery natural material formed almost entirely from the skeletons of diatoms, deposited in most cases during the Cenozoic era. A strategically placed line is the best way to control ants; they will not cross it. Keep in mind, if diatomaceous earth becomes wet it must be reapplied and has been suggested to adversely affect household pets.
Aphids: Aphids can be found in dense colonies, often appearing on tender new shoots and on the underside of leaves. Aphids are tiny, soft bodied, pear shaped insects that appear in a variety of colors, from yellow to amber. These common pests suck the juice out of plants which results in distorted, yellowing leaves and malformed flowers. Aphids are difficult to control because they multiply very quickly. Females are born pregnant with secondary embryos inside the first embryo and reach adulthood within one week. Aphids produce a honey like secretion that goes moldy and eventually leads to plant death. Strong soapy water can be sprayed on plants to reduce mold formations. Planting catmint or catnip under roses naturally keeps aphids away. The best solution for aphid control is the ladybug. A single ladybug can eat up to 5000 aphids in a lifetime.
Birds: Concerned orchard owners can hang lightweight plastic mesh over fruit trees to deter birds. Other tactics include: rigging up a scarecrow, hanging aluminum pans or using flashing lights to scare them off. Remember to move or alter the pattern of these devices often, for birds will no longer be scared away once they get used to your tactics.
Deer: Deer are beautiful creatures to observe but they can destroy a garden in record speed. Repellents can be purchased from local nurseries, although a high fence is recommended for keeping deer out of your garden.
Fruit Flies: Fruit flies are common pests that can be found in your home or garden. In early summer, pheromone traps can be mounted on trees or inside your house to eliminate fruit fly swarms. These traps attract pests by releasing odorous chemicals similar to the insect's own pheromones, which are used to communicate. Another method to reduce fruit fly infestations is to apply a boric acid and sugar spray to plants in the early morning when their foliage is still wet. An alternate approach that involves pre-planning is to plant the herb Tansy under peach or apricot trees in the spring. If nothing else works, a hand held vacuum can suck up copious fruit flies in an amazingly short period of time.
Mealybugs: Mealybugs are found on stems and leaves and look like a cotton mass with a fluffy, waxy coating. They are oval white insects that grow up to 1/4 inch long and are very slow moving. A mealybug will reproduce in a month and its eggs can survive through warm winters. Ladybugs are very efficient in decreasing mealybug populations.
Scales: Scales look like little oyster shells that are attached to stems and leaves. Their shell acts as a protection device as they suck plant juices and produce sticky secretions. Scales can be scraped off with your fingernail and stems covered in scales should be removed and destroyed. Clean light infestations with alcohol; dormant oil can be used in the spring and lightweight horticultural oil can be applied in the summer. Natural insecticidal soap should be used as a last resort.
Slugs: Slugs can be controlled by trapping or by adding abrasive material to the soil surface. To trap slugs fill a shallow saucer with beer and strategically place it in the garden. The slugs will go for the beer instead of your plants.
Spider Mites: These pests can be seen on the under side of leaves with yellow specks visible on the leaf surface. Spider mites are about the size of a pinhead with small clear to amber eggs. Heavily infested plants should be removed immediately to stop the spread of mites. Predator mites work well for spider mite infestations, within 4 weeks you should observe a dramatic decrease in the amount of spider mites. Pyrethrum sprays or organic insecticidal soaps can be used prior to predator release, but caution must be used for sprays can kill off beneficial bugs and may have residual effects.
Thrips: Thrips are tiny brown or straw colored insects that are found at the base of petals in flower buds. Eventually, flower buds turn brown and die before opening and leaves appear speckled with yellow spots. Thrips scrape tender leaf surfaces and are more abundant during dry spells. As the infestation progresses, a sheen may appear on leaf surfaces with visible black specks. These pests move very quickly and adult thrips can fly making it difficult to manually remove them. Safers soap can be used to cut down on infestations, while predator bugs used in the pupate stage, are an excellent line of defense.
White Flies: White flies can be found on lower leaf surfaces. Nymphs are small and flat with visible beaks that suck plant juices. Tiny white flies leave a shiny secretion trail that can mold, eventually leading to plant death. Strong soapy water sprayed on plants eliminates mold formations. White flies are naturally attracted to the colour yellow and can be trapped using yellow sticky cards. Another recommended method or reducing white fly numbers is to purchase predator insects, available at your local nursery, that can eat 150 to 600 white fly eggs a day.