Natural remedies safer than pesticides
TRACY HODGEThose of us who have landscaping in our yards, vegetable gardens or fruit trees are well aware of the damage insects can cause. Here in Central Florida, there are a variety of pests that may appear at certain times each year to feed on our plants.
Published: May 2, 2012
Published: May 2, 2012
Taking steps to prevent insect infestations and damage is key to keeping your plants healthy and looking their best.
Whiteflies are one of the most common pests found in our area. These tiny moth-like insects are silver or white and are coated with a fine powdery wax. Because they are so small, you may notice the damage on your plant leaves before you spot whiteflies.
Small holes are often visible on plant leaves and tiny whiteflies may be seen in groups underneath the leaves. Because whiteflies produce honeydew, your plants may have a sticky coating on them as well.
While whiteflies feed on a variety of ornamental plants, some of the most commonly attacked in Florida are crape myrtle, chinaberry, ligustrum, viburnum and gardenia.
Citrus plants are not exempt from whitefly feeding, with orange, lemon and grapefruit all commonly infested. Vegetable plants such as peppers, eggplant and tomatoes are also favored hosts of whiteflies.
Whenever possible, it is best to use natural remedies for whiteflies to avoid killing beneficial insects such as parasitic wasps and lady bugs, which help to keep whitefly populations low. One of the best natural ways to reduce whiteflies in your yard is to use an oil spray.
You can make your own oil solution by mixing two tablespoons of vegetable oil with one gallon of water. Place the solution in a spray bottle and coat your plants, concentrating on the undersides of leaves where whiteflies congregate to feed. Repeat the application twice each week until whiteflies are gone.
Because of our humid climate, slugs can be a problem in our gardens. Slugs must have moisture to survive, so they like damp places and generally come out at night to feed on plants. Although slugs crawl on the ground, they can climb plants in search of new, tender leaves to feast on.
According to the University of Florida IFAS Extension, there are only a few native slug species that cause damage in our area, but some non-native species that have established themselves in Central and South Florida that are extremely damaging to the plants in our landscape.
While slugs can be difficult to catch in the act, there are a few tell-tale signs they leave behind that may help you identify them.
When slugs are immature, they may only feed on the surface of plant leaves, merely scratching them with their rasping mouthparts. However, as slugs get larger they can leave huge holes in leaves and flowers. Slugs can also leave gleaming, slime trails on concrete, plant leaves or wood.
Fortunately, slugs are fairly easy to eliminate with a substance many of us have around the house. Find jar lids, so that the lip of the lid will be close to the ground. Place them underneath your damaged plants and pour the lids full of beer.
The slugs are attracted to the fermented liquid and will climb into the jar lid to feed. Replace the beer every three or four days for best results. If you notice slug activity in shady areas of your yard or garden, be sure to remove all leaf litter promptly and keep the area free of weeds because they provide a damp place for these slimy pests to hide.
You may also notice tiny triangle-shaped insects on your plant leaves, which are usually aphids. These tiny insects are often easy to spot because they are often bright shades of pink, yellow, red, green or orange.
Aphids are common pests in many areas, and Central Florida is no exception. Don't be fooled by their tiny size; aphids can wreck havoc on your landscaping, according to Sun State Landscaping.
Aphids are similar to whiteflies in many ways, as they both feed on the undersides of plant leaves, have piercing mouthparts and excrete honeydew. If only a few aphids are feeding on your plants, dip a cotton ball in alcohol and rub them from the foliage two or three times a week.
When larger infestations are found, try using a solution of one cup of water mixed with one teaspoon of vegetable oil and one teaspoon of liquid dish soap such as Dawn. Spray it on your infested plants, let set for an hour or so and then rinse. Be sure to rinse the foliage well, as certain plants are more sensitive to soap solutions and leaf burn could occur.
Plants that are stressed by drought or have hairy leaves are more likely to suffer injury from soap solutions.
Using these natural methods to keep common plant pests under control will keep beneficial insects alive and doing their jobs. Homemade remedies are also less damaging to the environment than harsh chemicals.
During the growing season, inspect your plants once a week for signs of insect damage to nip problems in the bud quickly and keep your plants looking their best.