Pointers for easy pest control in your garden

Spring gardening is upon us, a time when many Florida gardeners plant vegetables, trees and landscape shrubs. If we have turf, we pay attention to bare spots, patches and insects.

As your plants and turf grow, be on the lookout for pests and problems. Try to notice issues early and get help from your local Extension office, if needed.

Consider using less toxic pest control methods and products around edible crops. (Nicole Pinson)

Some of the easiest and least expensive strategies for mitigating pest and disease problems include:
• Choose the right plant for the right place

  • Select plants for site conditions and pest resistance
  • Plant a diverse garden
  • Use mulch
  • Pull weeds
  • Sanitize tools, when needed
  • Encourage natural enemies (good bugs that prey on pest bugs)

Of course, there are recommendations for pest and weed control, both online and through word-of-mouth.

Some are anecdotal; others are research-based.

Research-based recommendations have been tested in Florida and these recommendations promote using products according to the label. For example, although moth balls are a registered pesticide with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), their use in the landscape to control pests and nuisance wildlife is prohibited. It is against the law when moth balls are used in this way.

When using chemical products, start with the least toxic methods. These products generally cause less harm to non-target insects and animals, and some may be used in organic gardening.

These are some least toxic products and the pests they control:

  • Neem oil for soft-bodied insects, such as aphids, scales and whiteflies, cucumber beetles, caterpillars and spider mites
  • Neem extracts with azadirachtin for caterpillars, flea beetles, weevils, aphids and leafhoppers
  • Spinosad for fire ants, thrips, sawflies, caterpillars (such as armyworms, bean leafroller, cabbage looper, corn earworm/fruitworm, diamondback moth and pickleworm), flies, beetles, spider mites and thrips
  • Bt-k (Bacillus thuringiensis var. kurstaki) for caterpillars, such as armyworms, bean leafroller, cabbage looper, corn earworm/fruitworm, fall webworm, loopers, bagworms, hornworms and squash vine borer
  • Bt (other Bacillus thuringiensis varieties) for fly larvae (mosquitoes, fungus gnats), wax moth larvae and some beetles
  • Horticultural oil (petroleum-based) for soft-bodied insects and mites, including scales, aphids, spider mites, mealybugs and whiteflies
  • Insecticidal soap (potassium salts of fatty acid) for soft-bodied insects and mites, including soft scales, aphids, mealybugs and whiteflies
  • Diatomaceous earth (silica shells of diatoms) for ants, fleas, bed bugs, cockroaches, millipedes, sowbugs, and other small, soft-bodied insects

Plant a diverse garden to control pests and disease. Take a proactive, less toxic pest control approach.

Spring is a great time to be on the lookout for pests and problems.

If you are looking for where to purchase beneficial organisms, also known as “natural enemies,” check this publication: “Guidelines for Purchasing and Using Commercial Natural Enemies and Biopesticides in North America,” by Lynn M. LeBeck and Norman C. Leppla. Specifically, check Tables 1 and 2, for suppliers.

Consider adding plants that attract pollinators and beneficial insects. Some of these plants also have extrafloral nectaries, which are nectar-producing glands found in some plant families, that are separate from the flower. Passionvines are one type of plant with these extrafloral nectaries.

To find out more, check out these IFAS publications: “Natural Products for Managing Landscape and Garden Pests in Florida,” and “Organic Vegetable Gardening in Florida.”

For additional information, contact or (813) 744-5519, ext. 54145.

Nicole Pinson is the Urban Horticulture Agent in Hillsborough County.

Published June 05, 2019

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