Creepy-crawlies

By Melissa Bobbitt

July 9, 2010 4 min read

It's nice to have someone else admire the hard work and care you put into your home garden -- but not when they've got exoskeletons and multiple legs and show their appreciation by chomping on your prized plants. But even though insects often get lumped in one big pesky category, many of these critters, you may be surprised to find, are quite helpful. Once you discover the right balance between "good" and "bad" bugs, your garden will flourish like never before. Your first step in properly ridding your flora of unwanted creatures is to determine whether your little visitors are indeed harmful. "Wicked Plants" author Amy Stewart urges restraint in killing insects solely based on their menacing appearances. "Earwigs are not terribly harmful, and in fact, they will eat aphids and the eggs of certain other insects, so they might actually help keep other creatures in check," Stewart says. Earwigs are considered "natural enemies," a type of predator that will eradicate the true baddies for you. Other types of "good" bugs are pollinators -- such as bees, which aid in the reproduction and growth of one's flowers and crops -- and decomposers, such as earthworms, which digest soil and rotted roots and turn them into nutrients. Experts recommend that gardeners with arachnophobia grin and bear it; spiders are beneficial, too. They'll catch and eat just about any insect that may be plaguing your plot. So, who are the culprits to watch out for? Master Gardener Emma Connery recently wrote in the Contra Costa Times (Calif.) that aphids, mealybugs, flies, mites, grasshoppers and wasps are particularly troublesome. These little fellas will chew leaves, desecrate the soil, suck out a plant's nutrients or eat the "good" bugs that are crucial to a garden's ecosystem. There are many ways to regulate the "bad" insect population. Stewart says one way of preventing pests is to observe which plants survive the onslaught each season. Those that tend to get "bugged" are removed from her collection and traded for something more resistant. For a proactive approach, you can do what Susan E. Webb of the University of Florida does: pluck bigger pests off the plants and drown them in soapy water. That way, only the problem critter is harmed, and your garden -- not to mention your family and pets -- go unscathed. If an insect problem is more severe, consider sprays and fogging. Rene Rivera, an assistant manager of a Home Depot store, suggests fogging -- typically dispensed from a gunlike canister containing aerosol propellants. "It gets down among all the crevices," Rivera says. Effective foggers run in the $50-$70 range, such as the Bonide 420 Fog-Rx or the Burgess 1443, but may not be available in all states because of varying insecticide laws. Foggers and other chemically based methods may be harmful to children, pets or "good" bugs. So a whole new market of organic pest control has blossomed as of late. Rivera says that products containing cinnamon or rosemary oil extracts are useful repellants that won't poison the environment. Also touted by gardening gurus are sprays made of pyrethrum (extracted from daisies and used to knock down caterpillars, larvae and beetles) and neem (a tree seed that slows the feeding cycles of caterpillars, beetles and moths). As you would with all treatments, be sure to follow the instructions carefully. Your garden can be a harmonious place, as long as you know with which insects to harmonize!COPYRIGHT 2010 CREATORS.COM

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