Written by Richard Gillespie, LawnStarter
Most everything’s bigger in Texas — except when it comes to garden pests. The worst garden pests in Texas tend to be the smallest, such as aphids and spider mites. While these tiny creatures threaten our plants, and sometimes our health, using synthetic pesticides to get rid of them can be more dangerous than the pests. Being Texan by nature means making our yards wildlife-friendly, not poisoning the birds and the bees. An easy way to do this is by committing to eco-friendly pest control.
Get Help From Other Wildlife
Take advantage of the circle of life and let something else control the pests for you. Healthy plants attract good bugs that feed on unwanted pests. Fill your garden with native plants and flowers to attract natural predators such as ladybugs, lacewings, and hummingbirds. They’ll make a quick meal of the aphids and tomato hornworms
Consider building a bat house in your yard. A single bat can take out hundreds of bugs in one night. That may be why you won’t find many or moths or beetles around Auditorium Shores in downtown Austin or Bracken Cave near San Antonio. The bats nesting under the Congress Avenue bridge eat about 10 tons of insects a night. The Bracken Cave bats do even better, eating about 200 tons of bugs a night.
Keep in mind, you can lead a bat to Texas, but you can’t make her eat the pests you want to get rid of. Consider augmentation. This is the process of buying predatory bugs, pathogens, or parasites and releasing them into your garden.
You can suck bugs directly off plants or after knocking insects to the ground with your hose. Many insect vacuums include a disposable cartridge with sticky surfaces to trap bugs. You can also dump the trapped insects into soapy water or even insecticidal soap to kill them.
You can also pull out the leafblower, hand vacuum, or shop-vac to safely remove pests from your plants. Just make sure you don’t get too close and harm your plants in the process.
You can make your own using dish soap, but be careful as homemade solutions may harm plants if the concoction or the application is poor. If you want to keep your plants safe, use insecticidal soaps manufactured specifically for eliminating bugs. Cover the entire insect when you spray and make sure to get the undersides of leaves. (Those little buggers are good at hiding.)
Using a high-power spray nozzle on your hose in conjunction with insecticidal soap provides a perfect one-two punch. While soap solutions may not kill pests immediately, they will help immobilize them, providing you with the opportunity to blast the bugs away.
Botanical insecticides come from plants themselves. They’re safer and more eco-friendly than synthetic pesticides, but they can sometimes kill the beneficial bugs in your yard.
Diatomaceous earth is a dust made of finely ground skeletons of fossil diatoms. Its sharp edges cut the outer body of insects, causing them to die of dehydration. DE is nontoxic to birds and mammals, but make sure to wear a dust mask during application.
Pyrethrum and pyrethrins are derived from a type of chrysanthemum. Pyrethrum is a powder you can spread, much like DE. Pyrethrins are compounds formed from pyrethrum and included in several varieties of pesticides. They break down more easily than synthetic pesticides.
Vegetable oils such as neem oil, soybean oil, and citrus oils are low impact insecticides used to smother the pests in your garden. These products are diluted and sprayed onto insects, causing them to suffocate.
There are many eco-friendly options for getting rid of pests. Keep in mind: Even the pests serve a purpose. If we didn’t have aphids, we wouldn’t have ladybugs in our garden.
Richard Gillespie is an exterminator whose interest in household and landscape pests began as a child, when he would crank up the radio to hear “I Don’t Like Spiders and Snakes.” He prides himself on practicing humane and eco-friendly pest control, unless he finds a rat. Then, all bets are off.
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