We actually create most of our own yard care problems by trying to support grasses, trees, and other plants that are a long way from their natural environment and can't thrive on their own.
The vast majority of insects and microbes in the soil are beneficial to plants. Only a very small percentage are harmful, but they can be quick to attack a weakened plant far from home.
When we step in to "take control," we often compound the problem by destroying our natural allies in the process of "wiping out the enemy," leaving our yards defenseless against the next wave of harmful insects or plant diseases. When we engage in all-out chemical warfare against pests and plant diseases, we also run the risk of harming ourselves and the environment in the process.
"An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure"
This old saying is especially true when it comes to YardWise problem-solving. If you've adopted the YardWise Practices of selecting native and adapted grass and other plants, building healthy soil with mulch and compost, watering efficiently, grasscycling, and providing a balanced diet for your plants, you will eliminate or greatly reduce the number and severity of the invasive plants, pests, and plant diseases that you will encounter in your yard.
INTEGRATED PEST MANAGEMENT:
EFFECTIVE, NOT DESTRUCTIVE
Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is a system for making sound decisions about when and how to control pests and other yard problems.
Tolerate Low Levels of Pests as Part of the Balance of Nature
Only you can determine what level of pests you can live with. Remember, though, that your yard is not an island, and pests will migrate into it from all directions. So instead of trying to make your yard 100% pest-proof, it makes more sense to put up with a few pests, while supporting natural pest control agents. After all, allowing a few pests to remain provides food for the beneficial insects and helps to keep them on the job.
Know the "Good Guys" from the "Bad Guys"
Nature has a system of checks and balances that limits pest activity. Of the millions of insect species in the world, less than 2 percent are harmful. Beneficial insects such as ground beetles, ladybugs, fireflies, green lacewings, praying mantises, spiders, and wasps keep harmful insects from devouring your plants. They also pollinate your plants and help to decompose organic matter. Other beneficial creatures include birds, snakes, toads and lizards.
Create a Haven for Beneficials
Beneficial insects will come to the landscape if you provide them with:
- Water. This could be as small as a bowl or bird bath or as large as a pond, just as long as it is available and filled with fresh water all year. Be sure to keep the water fresh; stagnant water attracts mosquitoes and other insect pests.
- Shelter. Every animal needs shelter to protect it from enemies and raise its young. To provide living space for beneficial insects, grow a variety of plants, including annual flowers, perennial flowers, bulbs, grasses, small shrubs, large shrubs, and deciduous and evergreen trees. The beneficial insects will find their niches.
- Food. Pollen and nectar sustain some insect predators when insects are not available to eat. Flowering plants like yarrow, dill, anise, chamomile, dasies, chives, feverfew and thyme provide pollen and nectar for adult beneficial insects. Vertebrates, such as birds and squirrels, enjoy fruits, grain, and seeds, especially during the winter. Once beneficial insects, birds, and animals get to know a particular landscape as a place to find food all year, they will come back.
For More Information on Beneficials:
Controlling Pests and Diseases Safely
Despite your best efforts to establish a strong, healthy yard and support beneficial insects, you may need to take additional steps to bring weeds, pests, and plant diseases under control. There are many ways to reduce these problems before resorting to chemical sprays. The guiding principle here is to avoid "overkill." With this in mind, here are a few things you can do, starting with the least potentially harmful to non-targeted species.
Mechanical and Physical Controls
Mechanical and Physical Controls are techniques that physically exclude or remove pests and invasive plants (weeds). Some examples include:
- Hand picking large pests
- Pruning branches to remove bagworms (piercing the bags also allows predator wasps to enter and devour larvae).
- Blasts of water directed upward from beneath foliage to dislodge mites and aphids.
- Netting to exclude birds, grasshoppers, and other temporary pests.
- Collars (can cylinders, toilet paper rolls, etc.) pressed partially into the ground to protect seedlings.
- Insect traps (monitor to avoid trapping beneficials)
- Pulling weeds.
- Solid barriers to keep grass from invading planting beds
Natural Pest Repellants
Natural Pest Repellants such as
- Garlic and hot-pepper sprays, which can be made by processing these herbs with water in a blender and straining out the pulp.
- Cedar shavings
Biological Controls (imported beneficials), such as
- Parasitic nematodes (tiny roundworms) that eat fire ant, grub, and flea larvae
- Ladybugs (eat aphids, worms, and soft-bodied insects)
- Bacillus thuringiensis (consumes moth, mosquito, and webworm larvae)
Botanical and Mineral-based Pesticides
Botanical and Mineral-based Pesticides are derived directly from plants and minerals. Many of these products are safer for use in and around the home, but some are just as toxic as synthetic pesticides or even more so. Be sure to read labels carefully. The advantage of using botanicals is that they break down rapidly and don't accumulate in the food chain like some chemical pesticides do.
Botanical pesticides include:
- Insecticidal soaps (controls soft-bodied insects: aphids, scales, mites, etc.)
- Pyrethrins (effective against most insects)
- Orange oil can be effective in controlling a number of insects.
- Neem works on various pests and powdery mildew, and comes in either an oil form and as an extracted ingredient (azadirachtin).
- Spinosad is another effective natural pest control product.
Mineral-based products include
- Potassium bicarbonate — effective against powdery mildew
- Sulfur is a weak fungicide that also works against mites.
- Copper based sprays work on bacterial and fungal diseases.
Synthetic Chemical Sprays
Spraying is not the first step in pest control...it is the last. When all else fails, choose the least toxic products that target specific pests rather than destroy all insects in the yard. Eliminating beneficials leaves plants without their protection against the next wave of pests and diseases, and you could initiate an expensive and dangerous cycle. Synthetics also break down more slowly and remain toxic longer, increasing the risk of exposure to humans and spreading into the environment beyond your yard.
Links to Guidance for Specific Problems
Other Lawn Problems