Home > Great Big Greenhouse Blog > August 2014 > BONNIE'S GARDEN--To Spray or Not to Spray

BONNIE'S GARDEN--To Spray or Not to Spray

I just spent a half-hour with a customer who was frustrated because he’d sprayed and sprayed his squash plants with an insecticide and they were still looking bad.  I asked him if he had a sample of a leaf.  He did.  His problem was powdery mildew—not an insect at all.  That also brought up the question “What kind of insecticide did you use?”  “I don’t know.  Something I got for the azaleas.”  When I told him he’d better go home and read the label, he looked surprised.  “Read the label?”  “Yep, read the label.  Unless it specifically says that it’s okay for use on food crops, there’s a good chance that you can’t eat the squash from those plants.”  “Aargh!”  That’s the sound of a very unhappy man.

There are a lot of pests and diseases—even nutrient deficiencies--just waiting to pounce on our vegetables/flowers/trees/shrubs.  It can be overwhelming to know what to do. So here are some things to keep in mind.

1:  Identify the problem.  If you are not 100% sure what the problem is, bring a sample to a reputable garden center to get it identified.  If you think it’s a disease and it’s really an insect pest, you can spray it with a fungicide and it is nothing but a waste of time and money—and it’s not taking care of the problem.  Or you might think fertilizer will take care of those yellow leaves when it’s really a cultural problem.  Fertilizing a sick plant can make it worse instead of better.

2:  Once you’ve identified the problem, select the correct solution.  There are certain products more effective against caterpillars or slugs or mites, for example, so get a product that specifically mentions your particular problem.  Again, if you’re not sure, ask a professional for their input.  That’s what garden center employees are here for.

3:  You’ve got the correct product.  Now READ READ READ the label.  NEVER ever use any garden pesticide/herbicide/fertilizer—even an organic one—without reading the label.  Note any protective gear—such as long sleeves, gloves, and/or goggles it suggests.  Some years ago, there was a product on the market for borers called Lindane.  It had a DANGER (skull and crossbones) symbol on the label and called for long pants, long sleeves, rubber gloves, goggles.  It might even have called for a face mask.  I was out one evening walking the dogs and saw a neighbor spraying a tree in his yard.  He was wearing a tank top, cut-off shorts and flip-flops.  We chatted for a minute and I asked what he was spraying.  “Something for borers.”  I cringed.  “Lindane?”  I asked.  “Yeah, that’s it.”  “Uh, Kenny, did you read the directions?”  “No, why?”  Why indeed!

4:  More is never better.  Do not use a cannon when you really need a sling-shot.  Never ever exceed the label directions.  Over-feeding a plant, for example, can do more damage than under feeding.  Over spraying with a fungicide or insecticide, might take care of your insect or disease problem, but it might also kill or damage the plant you’re trying to protect

5:  Whenever possible, ask if there are organic controls for your problem.  It’s better for our environment—and for any wildlife, butterflies, hummingbirds, bees that might be around.

6:  Never spray pesticides on plants in bloom.  A pesticide cannot distinguish between bad guys like aphids or mealy bugs and good guys like honeybees, ladybugs, and butterflies.  Last year, in Wilsonville, Oregon, a landscape company sprayed Linden trees in full bloom for aphids—killing over 50,000 honeybees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. 

7:  Garden products aren’t as smart as you think.  A broadleaf weed-killer will kill anything that is not a grass. It can’t tell the difference between a dandelion and a geranium.  A product that can kill voles can also kill birds, squirrels, cats and dogs.  That’s why you need to read the label to make sure you use the products correctly. 

8:  Timing is important.  I limit my spraying to very early morning (right about sun-up) or late evening (right about sun-down) to avoid killing any honeybees/butterflies/hummingbirds or damaging tender young foliage.  And, because so many of the “bad guys” are night feeders, I’ll get more of them, too.

I am a totally organic gardener so I mostly rely on hand-picking and other organic controls for insects and, instead of weed-killers, simply put on gardening gloves and pull my weeds by hand or pull out my favorite little hoe and chop them out.  But, on the rare occasions I do find it necessary to treat for an insect problem, for example, I read those label directions again—even though I’ve read them before.

Posted: 8/5/2014 by Bonnie Pega | with 0 comment(s)
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