Dealing with insects in the landscape is sometimes a challenge for the eco-friendly gardener.
Many people who really love the outdoors are still unreasonably "bugged" by bugs. And although biting insects can certainly make outdoor activities unpleasant, most other garden insects are relatively harmless and some are even beneficial insects.
Keeping your plants healthy and inviting wildlife to your yard are two good environmental choices for cutting down on insect problems. Healthy plants can usually fend off damage from insects, and birds and other forms of predatory wildlife help by eating what they can catch.
Remember, anything that you decide to spray to kill insects has the potential of making its way into local water supplies. Also, most pesticides are indiscriminate—they may take care of your pest but they also kill all the good insects that help your garden function.
However, if you still feel that a perfect environment is an insect free environment, keep these principles in mind:
- Some of the insects that you may be eliminating are actually beneficial to your plants and the environment. For example, caterpillars turn into pollinating butterflies and ladybugs eat other leaf chewing insects. Try to identify the insects before you eliminate them. There are several websites listed below to help with insect ID.
- Spot treat when and where you see insect damage. Don't spray your whole yard thinking you will keep insects away. Most pesticides don't work as repellents.
- Practice Integrated Pest Management- Integrated pest management (IPM) is a wholistic approach to pest control. It integrates chemical, cultural (cultivating, weeding, mulching), and biological pest control techniques to reduce the pest population and keep damage to an acceptable level.
- Many insects can actually be controlled by handpicking, pruning or spraying with water.
- Ask for safer alternatives to traditional, chemical pesticides at your local garden center. These include insecticidal soaps, horticultural oils and products containing a bacterium called Bacillus thuringiensis (BT).
- Pest Management for Water Quality - various articles from Virginia Cooperative Extension
- Insect and Pest Information – University of Maryland
- Try Pesticide Alternatives(pdf file)
- Insect Identification Laboratory at Virginia Tech
- Ladybugs as natural pest control
- Biological Pest Control – A guide to natural enemies in North America. A Cornell University website.