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Begin pest control early in growing season

By Staff
Steve Strong / county agent
April 28, 2004
Spring 2004 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 will soon fall prey to the same sinister pests as last year.
When midsummer comes and the azalea leaves look like sandpaper (from lacebugs and spider mites), or the peach crop is filled with holes and shriveled up like mummies (from pinworms and brown rot fungus) remind yourself about early season pest control!
Problem-prone plants need a gardener's helping hand before pest populations become epidemics, because by then it is usually too late to do any good. Fruit trees and azaleas fall into this category, along with many other garden plants that are famous for pest problems throughout the growing season.
Fruit tree growers can begin early season pest management even while the trees are still dormant in January and February, but most folks wait until after flower petals drop before beginning a regular pesticide program.
Diseases and insects attack as quickly as leaves and fruit are formed, so it is important to stick with a regular spray interval of 10-14 days, up until the recommended waiting period for safe harvest.
A combination fruit tree spray is easiest for most gardeners, since it contains both fungicide and insecticide mixed together in the same product. Read and follow the label directions carefully before applying any pesticide to make sure it is safe for a particular crop.
Be aware that different insects feed on plants in different ways, either by chewing holes in fruit and foliage or by sucking plant sap. Black sooty mold on the surface of gardenia and crape myrtle leaves indicates a sucking insect is present (whiteflies or aphids), and a specific pesticide is required to control "sucking" bugs. Different pesticides are needed to kill chewing insects.
Problem landscape plants like azaleas and variegated golden Euonymus can be a little easier to manage than food crops, now that "systemic" pesticides have become available. A systemic pesticide usually comes in granular form, and is applied around the root zone where it gets sucked up and transported to the entire plant system. Then bugs ingest it.
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!
Plenty of liquid pesticides are labeled for landscape plants as well, to satisfy gardeners who like to pump up that sprayer.
Remember that most insect 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 insect and disease populations are still low. The further into the growing season you wait, the less chance you have of keeping garden pests from becoming a serious problem.