GARDEN FANATIC:Staying green in the garden

“The mortal enemies of man are not his fellows of another continent or race; they are … the disease germs that attack him and his domesticated plants and the insects that carry many of these germs as well as working notable direct injury.” -- W.C. Allee

“Advice is what we ask for when we already know the answer but wish we didn’t.” -- Erica Jong

“Take back your garden from pesky pests with natural methods that work without eco-unfriendly poisons” says Ideal Bite, a website that offers daily tips for a “greener” life. The editors cite the following benefits:

  • Easier on the earth. Less than 0.1% of pesticides reach the target pests, so more than 99% is left to impact the environment.
  • Safer for plants and the earthworms that sweeten your soil.
  • Safer for kids and pets. There are about 110,000 human poisonings from pesticides in the U.S. each year.
  • Insects and diseases come from contact with other plants, carriers such as dogs and humans, overwatering, overcast skies and longer days.


    All of these can transfer and encourage pests, not unlike the common cold. Dormant eggs or spores may hatch the moment your new azalea is placed in the garden.

    The early detection of pests provides an opportunity to control them. Try washing plants, handpicking or physically destroying problems (anyone remember Maxwell’s silver hammer?).

    If you are unable to identify an external pest, disease or condition, consult a nursery expert before you apply a pesticide, even a “green” one.

    If damage from pests exceeds an acceptable level, products such as insecticidal soaps, horticultural oils and BT (Bacillus thuringiensis) may be applied, often without harming natural predators.


    As always, one should consider measured methods of pest control rather than attempt total eradication. The use of acceptable organic gardening alternatives is a viable second step in garden care.

    Aphids are usually the first pests to show up in a rose garden and the last to leave. They can often be washed off with a spray of water, but sometimes it is necessary to smother them with Safer Insecticidal Soap or Ultra Fine oil. Only in the most severe cases should you consider the application of stronger chemicals like Orthene.

    If your perennials are displaying holes in their leaves, chances are snails or worms are the culprits.

    Snails and slugs are easy to spot, either by visual sighting or the slimy trail they leave behind. Ideal Bite suggests the use of a trap (Slug-X Trap — “just add beer to this trap for slugs and snails”) and barriers (Planet Natural Copper Tape — “slugs hate copper, so try copper tape around your plants”) to reduce or thwart these damagers. Keeping your garden neat and tidy will also reduce the opportunity for breeding and hiding.

    Control of caterpillars (worms) can be achieved by using BT, a very specific stomach poison, lethal only to caterpillars. This is rather critical if you don’t enjoy your tomatoes and basil infused with poisons. Applications on a five-day, continuous cycle are essential for a worm-free garden.

    If and when the weather begins to warm, expect an invasion of spider mites on roses and susceptible perennials. They cause a “stippling” of the rose and other leaves by sucking juices from the underside of the foliage.

    Like aphids, spider mites can be effectively controlled by washing the undersides of leaves with water at least two times per week. If your roses require stronger control, consider using Ultra Fine oil.

    “Eeks! They’re everywhere!” Catharine says, noticing an outbreak of mealy bugs on her orchids and palm. These ubiquitous, plated insects are closely related to scale;however, unlike their cousin, they can crawl around your plants freely and slowly.


    Protected by a white covering that resembles cotton candy, these pests extract plant juices that may cause stunting or even death.

    A cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol (or cheap whiskey) can “rub” out these bad guys. For major infestations, a strong stream of water or the application of Ultra Fine oil may be necessary every two weeks. Outdoors, lady bugs and lacewings are natural predators.

    Powdery mildew is making its presence known, appearing as a whitish powder on the leaves and shoots of roses as well as other plants. It is a disease that is spread by microscopic spores. Keep good air circulation within the branches, and clean up fallen leaves to reduce this problem.

    Once you begin to apply fungicides to prevent (not eradicate) powdery mildew, you must reapply every 7 to 10 days. I have found a recipe of 1½ tablespoons of baking soda and 1 tablespoon of Ultra Fine oilmixed with a gallon of water to be a powerful weapon. Apply as needed, at weekly intervals.

    Although it is true that pests and diseases can never be conquered, it is essential to learn to manage our foes. Nature has a plan for everything; the “pests” you spare are important to attract beneficial insects and birds into your garden.

    Let’s keep our environment clean by spraying only when it is necessary and appropriate.

    Stay green, and see you next time.


  • STEVE KAWARATANI is happily married to award-winning writer, Catharine Cooper, and has two cats and five dogs. He can be reached at (949) 497-8168 or by e-mail to

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