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Wed, Oct. 23

Column: The natural solution to getting rid of bugs

Protect your plants by attacking pests before they become an infestation.

Courtesy<br> Protect your plants by attacking pests before they become an infestation.

Our beautiful spring weather has gardeners flocking to the garden center. It's as if they need to relieve the gardening bug that's been pent up all winter. Some folks just stroll through the aisles taking in all the color; others haul home cartloads of flowers. With that in mind, here's a piece of advice from a gardener, not a garden center owner. Don't buy too much stock at one time.

Gardening should be a relaxing hobby, not a chore. Planting should be a leisurely pleasure, not a hurry-up burden because there are so many plants waiting on the next flat. Personally, I tend to take home more plants than I can get into the ground within a couple of days. When I do that, and have a plant that wilts and dies before I can get it planted, I feel terrible. So, this season my goal is to take home fewer plants at a time and enjoy my gardening experience more. I'm sure that I will find my stress level go down as I savor every gardening experience in the yard and garden.

If you find a lot of the plants that you can use, but more than you can plant in a few days, our garden staff will take care of those extra plants for you. This will allow you to take home what you can work with immediately; then come back a few days later and pick up the rest of the plants you bought.

There's an added benefit to doing this. Because of crop rotations in greenhouses and the bloom cycles of plants, the seasonal inventory at garden centers changes every two-three weeks. So, when you come back to pick up the remainder of your original purchase, you will be at the garden center to pick from the best of the new crops for your next garden project. Also, by buying less and visiting your garden center numerous times, you will be going with the seasonal change of crops and end up with a more diverse plant selection in your yard.

Each spring thrips and aphids are the first bugs to show up in local landscapes, and already I have thrips on some of my flowers. The secret to success against insect pests is to attack them early before they become an infestation. With that in mind, here's my battle plan for garden bugs:

My plan starts with beneficial insects. Ladybugs probably are the most well known and most easily recognized. They feed on insect pests, especially aphids and thrips. Ladybugs are available at the garden center now, as well as praying mantis eggs, worms, and nematodes. The important thing is to release them into the garden early in the season.

The next step in effective insect control is the use of organic bug killers. I like fertilome's Fruit Trees Spray because it kills most insects on contact as well as having a repellant to keep bugs away. This specially designed product can be sprayed on fruits, vegetables and herbs. This is my first line of defense against any bug problem, so I always keep a bottle in the garage ready for battle.

Tent caterpillars are back on the garden scene eating trees and shrubs. It's important to get these guys early, too, because they can strip large plants bare of their foliage. The most effective caterpillar spray is all natural and only attacks worm types without harming any ladybug, praying mantis or bird. Thuricide by American Brands is easy to spray onto foliage. As the worms digest the treated foliage, they become very sick, eventually dying of starvation. Thuricide is highly effective and safe for humans and the environment.

Grasshoppers have made appearances in parts of the county. To attack these pesky critters while they are young I suggest NOLO Bait. This highly effective application is another natural and selective product, which only affects grasshoppers and crickets. Resembling breakfast cereal, Nolo is a wheat product that has been laced with a bacterium that is lethal to grasshoppers. Any eggs laid after an application of Nolo also are affected. Because grasshoppers are cannibals, their eating of dead carcasses spreads the bacterium to the next generation. As long as it is administered early, Nolo is highly effective for treating large properties.

Should all forms of defense fail and insect demolition teams are overwhelming my garden, I turn to 38 Plus Turf, Termite & Ornamental Insect Spray. Developed by Hi-Yield for difficult agricultural situations, it is the strongest over-the-counter product available. It has the highest levels of permethrin, the same stuff used to treat homes for termites. Any insect hit with this liquid spray will die.

I have used 38 Plus on piñon scale and swarms of blister beetles. Mostly I use it to keep spiders and those little black beetles from entering my basement. I spray a one-foot barrier around the foundation of our home and eliminate bugs that might like to move in with us. One caution with this product is that kids and pets must be kept off of the sprayed areas until the product is dry.

Lilacs are in bloom around town now, and for the next few weeks' garden centers will have huge selections of lilacs in stock. By Mother's Day few lilac bushes will be blooming but rose-of Sharon, butterfly bush and salvia will have taken center stage. This seasonal progression from one blooming variety to the next makes for an always-changing landscape for us to enjoy.

Until next week, I'll see you in the garden center.

Ken Lain, owner of Watters Garden Center in Prescott, is a certified nursery professional and master gardener who has gardened extensively throughout Yavapai County.

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