Thursday, March 31, 2011

Bugs... think 'Art of War'

These bugs are making more bugs!!

Prior to the spring invasion of bugs, some rules should be established to deal with invasions. I feel a hands-on approach is best for the garden and gardener alike.

Often it seems gardeners are somewhat overwhelmed and outnumbered if one considers that there are over one million different species of insects in the world. Recently North Carolina scientists took a five-inch deep soil sample and tested it for insect and microorganism populations; their study indicated the presence of approximately 124 million living things per acre!

The good news is that most species are not remotely interested in what is growing in the garden and not all insects are created equal. Some are beneficial and others require extermination. It may also be noted that most insects are very selective about what they choose to eat. The same insect that has an affinity for dahlias may avoid the delphinium growing next to it so knowing the enemy is important.

Gardeners are basically pacifists so it is necessary to occasionally accept advice from 'The Art of War'; victory may be achieved only when one knows the enemy. In order to evaluate the damage caused by insects, one needs to first inspect the plants, preferably prior to wantonly killing every beneficial insect with widespread and random spraying. With overzealous spraying the darling Lady Bugs will meet the same fate as the Aphids. Cut worms must die, but the plump Striped Swallow Tail caterpillar eating the Dill should be left to cocoon then emerge as a lovely butterfly later in the season. Some bugs hide in the morning to emerge in the evening, while others (like grasshoppers) enjoy the heat of the day. Learn the habits of the hoards.

The slugs which inevitably arrive after spring rains dissolve nicely with a sprinkle of salt, and the rolly-pollies are usually in clusters which may be easily stepped on and squished. Perhaps entertain yourself by hand picking for awhile. Take a cup of hot water, squirt a little dish washing detergent into it to either kill what you pick or at least burn their eyes and prevent their escape. Squash bugs hate the solution!

If you have a tree that is 'weeping' buy a large syringe sans needle then fill it with one part vegetable oil, two parts dish washing detergent, and two parts water. Squirt the mixture in the weeping crevice and watch as tiny brown beetles and white thread like worms cluster from the crevice to writhe in agony before dying. This is wonderful garden entertainment that is very pro-active and empowering!

As summer arrives this year, no doubt the garden will suffer with the arrival of hoards of blister bugs, grasshoppers and other detestable vermin, but consider careful and prudent control... the Praying Mantis will thank you.

Besides being lovely, Dragonflies eat mosquitoes!