It seems that every spring, when the garden gets started and growing well, some opportunistic bugs find it! Insects, rodents and fungal issues are the not-so-nice part of gardening, and even the best public gardens have to deal with them. It is also important to remember that not all insects are evil, and if you want pretty butterflies, you need to have something for the hungry caterpillar to eat.
One of the first things about dealing with insects is to determine what it is and if it really is doing enough damage to treat. A handy way to see how much damage has been done is to stand about 5 feet away from the plant. If the damage is minor, you will not see it, while major damage will be observed. If the problem is seen and determined to be more than just a nuisance, then the second phase is to learn about the problem before you treat it. This overall way of dealing with problems in the garden is called IPM -- Integrated Pest Management.
Assuming that you have an insect problem which is creating holes in your cabbage, the most common insect for this is a caterpillar from the Cabbage White butterfly, and it creates large holes in the outer leaves of the cabbage plus around the edges. The butterfly leaves dark colored eggs on the leaf or in the middle of the cabbage, which emerge into pale green caterpillars to eat the cabbage. Most of these caterpillars are well-camouflaged, but if you find one, remove the caterpillar, complete with the outer leaf, to another area of the garden, then carefully look at the other leaves, both on top and underneath, to find other eggs. These can be removed with a strong stream of water.
Scale is another issue that occurs on shrubs and plants and is seen as little beige or white spots on the stem of a plant. The scale is the covering for the immature insect and protects it from predators as well as some garden sprays. Again, for just a few instances where you see scale, scrape them off and apply oil or soap-based garden spray to the area to remove the insects if the problem is significant. In both scale and aphids, a common way to find out that you have an issue is to notice a sticky residue on the stem which attracts ants.
Aphids are perhaps the most common and troublesome insect in the garden, and they come in several different colors. They are small and can damage a wide range of vegetation. Horticultural soaps are good to treat aphids and they work on both the egg and the insect by covering them with a soapy film.
A dusting of Diatomaceous Earth is good for many creeping insects like caterpillars, snails and slugs.
Many gentle treatments are available, and some common ones include Pyrethrums, neem or horticultural soaps and oils. Always read the label before using because even gentle remedies can kill a plant along with the insect.
So before you head to the chemical aisle of the big box store, remember:
1) Identify if the problem needs treating.
2) Identify the insect.
3) Treat with the least harmful way.
Kate Copsey is a garden author, writer and speaker now living in eastern Orangeburg County. Her book, "The Downsized Veggie Garden," is available from bookstores everywhere as well as her webpage, www.katecopsey.com.
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