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Garden Pest Control – The Two Sides Of the Coin For Effective Pest Management - by Jonathan Yaakobi

As with everything else, effective results in controlling garden pests depends on the approach or the attitude that is adopted. Broadly speaking, there are two aspects to pest control. At first sight, they may seem in contraction with each other, but on closer examination, they can be seen as two sides of the same coin.

The first basic requirement is constant monitoring by the gardener. Although many horticultural tasks are seasonal, such as pruning or feeding, they can usually be deferred for a while, providing they be carried out within a certain time range. When it comes to pests and disease however, the gardener should always be aware of what is going on, and be ready if necessary for immediate action. Here are some examples.

*Aphid attacks in the spring or autumn can occur very suddenly, where seemingly overnight, some garden plants become smothered in the sticky honeydew secreted by the insects. More threatening than the direct parasiting on the plants is the development of the black, sooty fungi that grow on the honeydew. Swift and direct action is therefore necessary in such circumstances, although this is not synonymous with spraying chemical pesticides on the affected plants.

*The fungi collectively known as powdery mildew are liable if left unchecked, to virtually defoliate a wide range of plants. They can be particularly devastating on roses in warm and moist conditions. Prompt action, which often simply entails washing down the leaves with a strong jet of water, is usually sufficient to prevent the worst consequences.

*Newly laid lawns that have shallow and under-developed root systems, are especially vulnerable to the depredations of caterpillars and other insects that chew on roots, thereby disconnecting them from the plants. Again, this can happen so quickly, that a delayed response can virtually destroy the lawn.

The other side to pest control, counter intuitively perhaps, is to try as far as possible, not to do anything! The optimal situation is when the organisms in the garden; bacteria, plants, fungi, insects, birds and animals etc, balance each other’s population levels to the point that no particular organism turns into “pest”. Low levels of aphid damage for instance, should be tolerated and even welcomed because the aphids provide food for predators that keep the insect’s numbers in check.

A golden rule of pest control is that the more aggressive the response, the greater the disturbance of this natural balance, resulting in the long-term, in more, not less infestations of plant pathogens. In other words, the greater the number and variety of organisms that inhabit the garden, the less the number and destructive potential of pest organisms. It is desirable therefore to grade the possible responses in order of their capacity to reduce wild life in the garden.

In this respect, the most damaging solution is to apply chemical pesticides. The second worst response is to use “environmentally friendly”, non-poisonous pesticides such as pesticidal soaps and horticultural oils, while at the bottom of the scale are mechanical actions, like hosing down leaves.

So while being constantly on the alert for pests and diseases and being ready to take immediate action where required, the gardener should be attempting to intervene as little as possible. Ultimately, the aim, which is not usually attainable in its entirety in private gardens, is to do nothing whatsoever!

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Jonathan Ya'akobi

Your Personal Gardening Coach

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