Start pest control programs early in growing season

By By Steve Strong / Lauderdale County Extension agent
April 3, 2002
Spring 2002 is lavishing gardeners with some of the most perfect weather one could imagine. Mild temperatures and light rainfall have allowed azaleas to put on their best show in years, and backyard fruit orchards are also promising a bumper crop.
Growing conditions like this April lull gardeners into a false sense of security, forgetting that their prized plants soon will fall victim to the same sinister pests as last year. When midsummer comes and the azalea leaves look like sandpaper (lacebugs and spider mites), and the peaches are filled with holes and shriveling like mummies on the tree (pinworms and brown rot fungus) remind yourself about early season pest control.
Problem-prone plants need a gardener's helping hand before pest problems become an epidemic, because then it is usually too late to do any good. Fruit trees and azaleas both fall into this category, along with many other garden plants that are famous for pest problems early in the growing season.
Fruit tree growers can start a pest control program even while the trees are still dormant (January-February), but can also wait until after most of the flower petals have dropped before beginning a regular pesticide "program." Diseases and insect pests attack leaves and fruit throughout the growing season, so it is important that you stick with the "program" (spraying about every 10-14 days) up until the number of days waiting period the label says is safe for harvest.
Sounds like a lot of work, and so it is that's why peaches and pecans cost what they do at the market. Remember that rainfall also washes off the pesticides that are applied, so a serious grower will have to re-apply the stuff more often if he or she hopes to protect the crop all the way through.
A combination fruit tree spray is easiest for most folks since it has fungicide and insecticide (triple action even has miticide, too) together in the same bottle. Read and follow the label directions carefully before applying any pesticide to make sure it is safe for that crop.
Landscape plants like azaleas and the variegated golden euonymus (even has its own scale insect named after it Euonymus scale) are a little easier to deal with nowadays than food crops, since "systemic" pesticides became available. Systemic pesticides are usually found in granular form, and are sprinkled around the root zone, where they get sucked up and transported to the leaves and blooms (where the bugs suck it up).
Be aware that systemic poisons can also travel into a fruit or vegetable, so products that are labeled for "ornamentals only" should not be used on herbs or other food crops. Do not end up like the fellow that visited the Extension office for advice, after he had been using an ornamental systemic pesticide for years on his pecan trees for bug control and was sharing the harvest with friends and family.
There are plenty of liquid formulas labeled for landscape plants for gardeners that still like to pump up that sprayer. Remember, most of the pests live and hide on the underside of the leaves (or on the stems), so apply the pesticide where it can work its magic.
Whether a spray or a granular systemic is used, the key to success is early season pest management while the bug and disease populations are still low. The further into the growing season, the less chance of keeping garden pests from becoming a problem.
Of course my personal philosophy is that the lacebugs have to eat, too (so I don't spray with anything). Just fling a little extra iron now and then on those George Tabor's and Formosa's to keep them greened up, and you'll barely even notice the bugs are there.

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