How to Control Spring Pests
Flowers and leaves are budding, so that means it’s time to nip your pest problems in the bud. It’s almost like a zombie invasion – populations lying dormant in winter rise again to overtake our gardens. Your garden may already be under duress, so let’s jump right in and discuss some pest management techniques before it’s too late!
Ants - A few ants here and there pose no threat to your plants. They can be prevented by maintaining good soil structure, drainage, and aeration in the garden bed. Well-composted and seasonally turned soils will typically dodge becoming flooded with ants. If ants start coming in droves, the best cures are to (1) eliminate any aphids (see below), (2) water the soil more thoroughly, and (3) mulch the soil. As a last resort, add a little vegetable oil and liquid dishwashing soap to a spray bottle full of water and spritz the affected area down.
Aphids - Ants love aphids. Like tiny little dairy farmers, ants herd aphids and harvest their milk. Aphids are eaten by (and thus attract) a number of insects that are highly beneficial to your garden’s health. A small population of aphids may actually help you. Aphid populations tend to boom in soils with very high nitrogen levels, so to avoid a full-blown invasion keep your soils balanced. They are especially fond of eating (read: destroying) cabbage, kale and broccoli.
You’ll know you’re invaded when ants are marching mechanically up and down all your plants stalks. To get rid of aphids once they’re in the garden, the best way I have found is to hang sticky fly traps and catch them when the emerging brood earned its wings. Soap and oil spray is also sometimes effective. One more option is to blast them out of your plants daily with a high-pressure stream of water.
If you spent a frustrating season unable to remove the aphids, leave a couple of affected plants hanging around between growing seasons. The aphids will stay vulnerable on the plants and will likely be eaten by a natural predator.
Black Scale and Mealybugs – This warm-climate duo is especially partial to Australia’s spring weather. They are known to scale plants and suck their sap. Be more aggressive with these and try spraying infested plants with pure vegetable oil. This will effectively suffocate them. Just be careful to do this on a cooler, cloudier day. Blazing hot sun will cause oil-coated leaves to fry!
Caterpillars – Caterpillar bite-marks may be cute, but these little guys will eventually eat your plants to death. Pluck them off plants one-by-one and toss them a good distance away from the garden. If they’ve hidden away or there are too many for manual removal, chopped garlic mixed into soapy water can be sprayed throughout the garden. Dipel, a natural insectiside which contains the caterpillar-selecting bacteria Bascillus thurigiensis, is another nature-safe method.
Earwigs – Ear-wig damage looks just like caterpillar damage. Small populations are beneficial to your garden, they’ll eat up aphids along with other, peskier pests. Large populations can be extremely destructive. You’ll need to be clever to control them. Devise a small trap using a plastic cup or tin can, fill it about halfway with water and fish oil (drippings from wet cat food, sardines or tuna). Dig a little hole in the ground and place your trap inside. The earwigs will waltz right in and get trapped in the liquid!
Slugs and snails – You’re likely very familiar with slugs and snails, clinging to the outside of your house after a rainstorm. They might seem intimidating in their large numbers, but you can cure your garden of them quite quickly. Spray salt water or coffee water to dehydrate them. Be careful not to over-spray as your plants can be dehydrated as well!