Wednesday, July 19, 2023

It’s a jungle out there with scary creatures if you’re a plant

Echoing through the online world are these words: “What’s eating my plant?” And with the question is usually an image of a leaf riddled with holes, a close-up of a seedling felled like a giant redwood, or tiny stems brutally severed.

There’s no shortage of culprits. Rabbits especially are a menace and the only thing that truly works is a fence around the yard or wire mesh around the plants. It needs to be a couple of feet high and turned outwards at the base in an L shape or buried a few inches. It won’t stop squirrels or chipmunks unless it covers the whole bed. There are countless other suggestions online, but none are guaranteed. Most popular recommendations are blood-meal, soaps, or other pungent things. Animals don’t like strange odours, but they adapt, and what may appear to work for a while doesn’t always last.

The blood-meal can be effective and some swear by it, however, like other deterrents it must be repeated after rain, and too much spread around will upset the nutrient balance in the soil and encourage leafy growth at the expense of flowers or fruit. There are a couple of commercial products, Bobbex and Plantskydd, used for winter protection of shrubs and trees from deer, are a deterrent elsewhere in the garden, although they shouldn’t be sprayed on vegetables. One suggestion to deter critters is to spread human hair about. I can tell, you, I’ve been losing hair in the garden for years without any effect.

Other than damage by chomping animals, most damage goes on at the level where Rick Moranis shrunk the kids. Sometimes evidence of the culprit is obvious, slimy trails left by slugs, or clusters of aphids clinging to new growth — blast aphids off with a hose daily until they’re gone.

From flea beetles to lily beetles and cut worms to earwigs, identifying the specific insect that’s causing damage is key. Holes in leaves will only tell you one that a pest has visited. Like no one in the office will admit to taking the last donut, by the time you spot the damage the pest may well have dined and dashed.

Much damage occurs overnight and that’s the time to observe. You may need to patrol the garden after dark with a flashlight, but let your neighbours know if they’re the suspicious type or you might find yourself in the back of a police cruiser and ranting about bugs won’t get you out.

Once you have identified the pest, you can determine the best means to deal with it, either with a barrier of some form or an insecticidal soap spray. These sprays must contact the insect pest. Please note, they don’t work by blanket spraying the garden. There are far more good bugs than bad ones. When predator insects are wiped out, the bug you’re trying to eliminate thrives. And you’ll be harming valuable pollinators, including bees and butterflies.

Certainly, there are instances where insects will ravage a crop, and that is disappointing, but often the damage is limited or short term, like with the four-lined plant bug. Right now, leaf miners have been busy on my Swiss chard, a problem that can’t be resolved with any spray as they’re within the leaf. It’s visually unattractive, but the chard will soon outgrow the damage and I’ll remove the affected leaves. Growing plants that attract predatory insects on or near the vegetable garden will be helpful, and it’s just as important to know the beneficial insects as well as the baddies.

Are we out of batteries for the flashlight again?

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