Taking care of the 'bad guys' in the garden from the ground up

An adult Japanese beetle -- one of the pests controlled by spinosad.
An adult Japanese beetle -- one of the pests controlled by spinosad.
Photo by Jessica Walliser
| Friday, June 7, 2013, 8:57 p.m.

Summer is here, and it's quite likely that you are beginning to encounter some pest insects in and around your garden. Mexican bean beetles, Colorado potato beetles, cabbageworms, hornworms, sawflies, cucumber beetles and lots of other “bad guys” will be making their debut any day now; you might want to start thinking about how you're going to “nip them in the bud” before they cause any significant damage.

All gardeners should look at preventative measures first and foremost. This means things like choosing resistant varieties, covering susceptible crops with floating row covers before the pests show up (row cover works great for cabbageworms and Colorado potato beetles in particular), or surrounding young squash plants with a collar of aluminum foil (to deter vine borers from their egg laying).

Other preventative methods include placing paperboard collars around tomato seedlings to foil cutworms, or hanging pheromone and/or red sticky traps in the orchard (for coddling moths and apple maggot flies).

But, sometimes, despite our best efforts at prevention, the pests come anyway. So, what to do? I'd like to tell you about a natural product that you can turn to in just such situations. It's a safe, natural solution, but I'd still recommend you use it only when absolutely necessary — in my book, that advice goes for any pesticide, organic or not.

Spinosad-based products have become a great tool in the arsenal of many organic gardeners and farmers, and with good reason. These products (brand names include Captain Jack's Deadbug Brew, Entrust, Green Light, and Monterey Garden Insect Spray) are made from a unique fermented soil-dwelling bacterium called Saccharopolyspora spinosa that was found by a scientist in the Caribbean in the early '80s. They work most effectively when ingested by the pest, so critters with piercing-sucking mouth parts aren't very susceptible, but a wide range of other insect pests are.

Insects who ingest spin–osad die within a few days of consuming it, and they stop feeding immediately. Spinosad-based products have a low toxicity to beneficial insects like ladybugs and minute pirate bugs; still, you'll want to apply it only when no beneficials are present — obviously good advice when applying any product to the garden. However, spinosad is known to be toxic to foraging bees, so it's absolutely essential that you apply the spray when no bees are active; early morning or evening is best. And, it should go without saying, but please follow all label instructions.

Spinosad works to manage pests like Colorado potato beetles, Japanese beetles, Mexican bean beetles, cabbageworms, budworms, hornworms, spider mites, flea beetles, sawfly larvae, asparagus beetles, cucumber beetles, various caterpillars, bagworms and many others. It is a great alternative to synthetic chemicals and is extremely effective. You can find spinosad-based products at many local nurseries as well as online at Planet Natural (www.planetnatural.com) and Gardener's Supply Company (www.gardeners.com).

Horticulturist Jessica Walliser co-hosts “The Organic Gardeners” at 7 a.m. Sundays on KDKA Radio. She is the author of several gardening books, including “Grow Organic” and “Good Bug, Bad Bug.” Her website is www.jessicawalliser.com.

Send your gardening or landscaping questions to tribliving@tribweb.com or The Good Earth, 503 Martindale St., 3rd Floor, D.L. Clark Building, Pittsburgh, PA 15212.

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