Spring is here and many people have garden fever. But, it is far too early to plant tender crops like tomatoes, peppers, basil or melons. Garden cleanup, especially if you didn’t have a chance to do it last fall, may be the place to put all your garden energy. It will also help you limit or prevent pest problems later in the growing season.
Like all animals, insect pests need food, water and shelter. Removing sources of food, water and shelter may deter pests from taking up residence in your garden. Remove standing water sources, such as clogged gutters, garden pots, old tires, lawn furniture or toys. These may become water sources for insect pests, including mosquitoes. Many insect pests feed on garden debris, and overwinter in garden litter or in trash piles. If you didn’t have the chance to clean these areas up last fall, do it now.
Some insect pests overwinter in the soil. If you had problems with tomato hornworms, onion maggots, Colorado potato beetles or flea beetles, to name a few, they may have overwintered in your garden. If you didn’t have the chance to turn your soil last fall, turn it now to expose the pests and destroy them. If possible, plant different crops in those locations in your garden this year.
Many insects do not overwinter in the garden, but will migrate back in in the spring, looking for a food source. Keep these insects out of your garden by providing barriers. Barriers may be row covers, sticky barriers or traps. Sticky traps can be used as both trapping and monitoring systems. They eliminate minor infestations and aid in identifying pests, so you can treat before they get out of hand.
Insect pests feed on weedy plants outside the garden in the early spring, gradually migrating to the vegetable garden as your crops begin to grow. Some crops deter insect pests, such as onions, garlic, basil and radishes. Planting these crops as a companions to more susceptible crops can deter insect pests. Sometimes these pests can be deterred by planting noncrop plants at the border of the garden. Marigolds, chrysanthemums, borage, mint and geraniums repel insect pests. These plants also provide a nectar and pollen source for pollinators and beneficial insects.
Many insect pests can spread plant diseases. As the insects feed, they transmit disease from adjacent weeds, native plants and landscape plants to the vegetable garden. Cut and remove weeds near the garden to remove potential sources of plant disease.
Weeds are important pests in the vegetable garden. These plants rob our crops of valuable water and nutrients. Controlling weeds is best done at the seedling stage, when they are tender and have small root systems. Weeds are easy to pull or hoe at the seedling stage. If you use herbicides, apply them carefully to prevent nontarget plant damage. Herbicides are most effective on weed seedlings. Once the weed has formed flower buds, herbicides are less effective.
To learn more, attend the Grow Your Own, Nevada! program’s Vegetable Garden Pest Control class held 6-8 p.m., April 25. To register, visit www.GrowYourOwnNevada.com.
Melody Hefner is the Urban IPM and Pesticide Safety Program Coordinator for University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. Horticulture questions? Contact a Master Gardener at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.growyourownnevada.com.