Cute rabbits can destroy a garden

There is wildlife and there are garden pests. If you live anywhere near open land, chances are you will be seeing plenty of your local wildlife. Although butterflies and colorful birds are always welcome guests in our gardens, some wildlife is a little less appreciated. With the bounty of lush green in our spring and summer gardens, rabbits are seeking out lawns and gardens to indulge in delectable treats. Gophers, moles and ground squirrels are burrowing pests that slow down in the winter, but become very destructive in spring when they have young to feed.  Planting seeds directly into your vegetable or flower garden can attract raiding rodents that will be delighted to chomp them away after dark. Remember that just like rodents, ants will be attracted by household food and water sources. Once close to the house, these latter pests are pleasantly surprised with the cool comforts and myriad food possibilities offered by the ordinary household. Keep food sources out of your garden or sealed in metal cans. Site those bird feeders away from the house so dropped seeds don’t encourage undesirable nocturnal critters to come for a visit. Never leave pet food exposed out in the open. And keep garden refuse and dead foliage cleaned up to minimize hiding places that will house pests. Compost piles are an excellent way to recycle organic waste, but make sure they are not placed too close to the house even if it is convenient for you. The other diners might turn that convenience into a serious problem.

Smaller insect pests can also wreak havoc in your garden. Regularly check foliage of ornamentals and vegetables for aphids. Tender new growth is particularly attractive to sucking and munching insects. Warm climates harbor voracious, destructive sucking insects like mealy bugs, scale and spider mites. The spider mites may not become evident until foliage starts to look bleached. On close inspection, fine webbing and the tiny dots that are the actual mites can be seen. Hosing foliage regularly will help keep insect pests down, especially where your sprinkler or soaker systems are likely to keep foliage dry and safe for these pests. Spider mites are especially fond of edible members of the Solanum family – tomatoes, peppers and eggplant. Damaged foliage will not repair itself, but with the renewed strength of good health, your plants will readily grow fresh new foliage. Ordinary insecticides are not effective on spider mite as these are truly tiny spiders. They are in the arachnid (spider) family and they are not insects. They require poisons made with the appropriate chemicals. Some insecticidal soaps say they will kill spider mite. I haven’t had a lot of success with them personally. Of course, the washing of the leaves does help with or without soap.

To keep plants in your garden resistant to pests, give them the light, soil and water they need. Frequent light feedings (I usually recommend 1/2 of label directions) — or better, home-made manure teas, deep watering appropriate for each type of plant, well-washed foliage and the proper placement will help control insects. Mulching is wonderful to mitigate temperatures around roots and to hold in moisture. Strong plants are more resistant to pests. Keep vegetable gardens netted, fenced or surrounded by chicken wire or hardware cloth to discourage larger critters. For burrowers, line the bottom of your garden beds with metal mesh to bar entry from the bottom of the garden. Raised vegetable garden beds also help fend off larger pests.

Keep a constant lookout for insect and animal pests or disease infections. If you catch problems early, they are more easily treated. A little extra time and vigilance is the best way to avoid having to battle many pests during the growing season in your garden.