Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Keeping two steps ahead of this year's garden pests

Mister Bentley aka Destruct-o
The garden digger and destructor of small plants
One of the main problems that l'Orto suffered last year was a devastating case of aphids. The little suckers preyed on the roses first, then infected the peach tree to such an extent that there was no hope of it bearing fruit. We tried a natural soap-water solution to spray on the branches and leaves, but with the frequent rains of last spring, much of it washed off without seeming to have done any good.

This year we're trying something new - pyrethrum spray. Anyone familiar with using this? Our local gardening store suggested it as an alternative to chemical pesticides but warned that it is very potent...and that fruits or vegetables should be washed well. I've actually read that you can make your own solution, and started some pyrethrum seeds [purchased from Nichols Garden Nursery] but so far they are slow coming along. Another suggestion came from a neighbor that lives down the road. To combat ants and aphids, he makes a solution of stinging nettle - ortica - and water. The mixture is left to sit for 10 days before using in a spray application. In his opinion this works even better than pyrethrum - we shall see!

Lastly, I recently learned of one other remedy that makes it sound as if your garden might be the victim of vampires. Our favorite supermarket distributes monthly pamphlets that usually includes a score of timely articles, and this month focused on a garden's hidden enemies. One suggestion for roses prone to aphid problems was to plant garlic bulbs next to the bushes or in the vases. To combat red spider mite, make an infusion of 10 grams minced garlic to one liter of water. Spray this solution onto the infested plants during the day when there is no rain or wind. We're going to test this. Sounds like a gardener's version of holy water - I just wonder if it'll add extra flavor to the plants!

Zucchini seedlings

Average daytime temperature: 16°C / 61°F


  1. Rowena, thank you so much! We have been plagued with aphids the last two years and have tried numerous remedies, including a 50/50 solution of milk and water sprayed directly on the suckers. It worked, but takes numerous applications. Also, we learned that ants "farm" the aphids. They carry aphid eggs to plants to propogate the aphid population because they milk the juice out of the aphids. Yuckkkk! So if you can control the ant population around your ants that helps also. Oh!!! It's been a battle royal!

  2. Gail - my pleasure to share whatever I learn! I was just reading about using boric acid for ants but the article mentioned it as a weapon against sugar ants...not sure what type of ants we have here but I'll give this a try.

    The neighbor who suggested the nettle solution said that it also works on ants so...looks like there'll be a variety of "teas" brewing around the garden shed!

  3. The best way to fight aphids is to encourage ladybirds by making nests for them. If you google that I'm sure you'll find some solutions.

    Yes, planting garlic next to roses works well, as do marigolds and even rue and geraniums.

  4. I would be really worried about using a spray on edible plants that requires you to wash your produce well or suffer the consequences. I agree with casalba, the best way to treat aphids on edible plants is to pick up a carton of ladybugs at the nursery. Additionally, I would try treating the ant problem.

  5. Casalba, Fern - we checked into ordering ladybugs but the supplier said that the ladies were a bit tricky... It seems that the window of time for them to hatch depends on the temperature, and when they do hatch, you'll already need to have some food (aphids?) for them to eat otherwise they fly away and look elsewhere for sustenance.

    Concerning pyrethrum, I'm getting conflicting info on store-bought vs homemade. In any case, we will be planting some marigolds and lavender around the fruit trees!

  6. You could try asking a smoker to save you their stubs. Soak these in water and put into a spray bottle.

    Here, they paint some sort of copper solution on the trunks of fruit trees over which the ants won't climb. I'm sure if you ask at your consorzio, they'd be able to advise. (Personally, I wouldn't put this on tomatoes, but many people do.)

  7. Casalba - I've heard of the nicotine solution but would probably try it as a last resort! Our concern is if this spring will be a very rainy one...because then it'll render the sprays less effective. Already the ants have begun invading our home!


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