Mealybug cluster

Mealybugs and cottony aphids can look similar. They both suck juices from your plants.

Insect control in the garden can be a challenge. There are different kinds of garden-damaging little pests in every climate. Some insects are highly adaptable and are endemic almost everywhere.  Although there is a vast array of insecticides  to help handle the problem most have some residual impact on the surrounding environment. So, consider using preventative measures like good hygiene and proper watering to keep your plants strong. Small infestations can often be tolerated by healthy plants without you having to intercede.

Keep an eye on fruit trees, ornamental plants and vegetables for aphids, whitefly, scale and mealy bug. Check tender new plant shoots and under leaves; favorite places for insects to feast. You are likely to see lot of ants around plants infected with these pests due to the sweet ‘honeydew’ the insects excrete. Keeping the ant population down is always a good, if not easy idea, since they will actually ‘herd and farm’ sucking insects, spreading the infestation. If you see ladybugs or their larvae, let nature work on the problem before interceding. Also watch for the delicate green lacewings or their voracious light brown larvae that look like miniature crocodiles. These are welcome friends in the garden. Sometimes the natural balance is restored without intervention by other natural predators.

The next best choice is hosing the infested plants with a stream of water to knock off the uninvited guests. Using an insecticidal soap like ‘Safer’s’ offers a best third choice. Although all types of insecticides are sold freely at stores, —and they will kill the pests along with any good bugs present — keep in mind if you are growing edibles that the chemicals are absorbed by the plant as well as the pest. You can buy all the chemical treated edibles you want at your local grocery store. What you grow at home can be a little less picture-perfect since you’re not selling it to the public like the grocery stores. And you can wash off a few insects in the kitchen sink far more effectively than removing traces of insecticide.

One more note about insecticides. When you march into the store, you see isles piled high with colorfully packaged products all promising to cure your garden of every problem you can imagine. It’s easy to think that since these products are so familiar, so available and so easy to use, that they are safe and innocuous. None of them are. These are ALL poisons. We dump these chemicals by the ton onto our lawns and gardens. They wash into our drinking water and ocean. A dear friend of mine who is conscientious enough to carefully read all the instructions was still miserably ill after working and breathing in residue from pesticides in a garden she had just treated. Keep in mind, much of the material available to us in stores is there because it is economically profitable to sell, not because it is the best solution to a given problem. And NOT because it is safe! We humans tend to be very busy and likely to grab the quickest and easiest solution. When you chose to use poisons, the quickest and easiest may prove the most dangerous to you and those you love. Use chemicals minimally and carefully. Another problem with the wholesale use of pesticides, fungicides, etc., is organisms that are developing a natural resistance. Again, using such products judiciously will slow down this adaptation.

No one knows the long-term effect of these materials on our bodies or on the fragile cycle of Earth life on which we all depend. Be very careful when using chemicals — even plant foods. Whenever possible, opt for natural solutions: insecticidal soaps, fish emulsion food, compost, etc. And always protect yourself. It’s better to wear a mask and gloves even if there are no special instructions to do so when using any chemicals.