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Garden Villain: Antagonizing Aphids

July 18th, 2010


This itty bitty villain can wreak havoc in the garden! The aphid loves to feed on new plant growth, sucking the sap right out of plants, and the aphid’s saliva is toxic to plants. Aphid plant damage can include: browning, curled leaves, lower growth rates and yields, mottled leaves, wilting, yellowing, and even death to plants.

Aphids are approximately 1/16- to 1/8-inch long, and they have pear-shaped bodies. There are many aphid varieties, ranging in color from black, brown, green, pink, red, or yellow. Once an aphid picks a spot to feed, usually along a plant’s stem or underneath the plant’s leaves, it will pierce the plant with its stylets—sucking mouthparts that are like tiny syringes. Just like vampires do in the movies, aphids suck the life out of their victims. Aphids also have two cornicles located at the rear of their bodies. These tube-like cornicles release cornicle wax, which is a quick-hardening defensive fluid.

If you notice that you have aphids on your plants, there are several safe, insecticide-free remedies for combating the antagonizing aphid and caring for aphid infested plants:

Purchase ladybugs. Aphids are a ladybug’s favorite meal!

Make an aphid removal home remedy. Mix 2 teaspoons mild dish or laundry soap into a bottle of lukewarm water. Spray the aphids with this mixture. The soap will wash off the aphid’s protective waxy coating and cause dehydration.

Get out your garden gloves. Put on some gloves and remove aphids from your plants with your hands.

Ready the garden hose. Shoot a sharp stream of water onto the plant where the aphids are located, to wash them off.

It’s very important as a food grower to regularly check your plants and garden for any villainous visitors. If you’re not paying close attention to what’s happening near and on your plants, aphids, one of several garden villains, can cause significant plant damage before you’re even aware there’s a problem.

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Garden Hero: The Lovely Ladybug

July 16th, 2010


With their richly colored orange-red wings and distinct black spots, lovely ladybugs often conjure up childhood memories of placing one on your hand or arm then intently watching it with fantastical awe. This beautiful bug is adored by many children for its calm nature, but it’s also adored by gardeners for its beneficial pest control behavior.

Ladybugs have colossal appetites and not only consume aphids—lice that feed on plant juices—but also eat other insects and larvae, including leaf hoppers, mealybugs, mites, whiteflies, and the eggs of the Colorado potato beetle, just to name a few. One ladybug, in its lifetime, can consume more than 4,000 aphids, their preferred meal.

In addition to consuming aphids and other insects, ladybugs require pollen as a source of food, in order to mature and lay eggs. Some plants that attract ladybugs include basil, cilantro, dill, fennel, pepper, thyme, and tomatoes. If you want to be extra considerate of your little garden heroes, consider planting bell-shaped flowers, such as lilies or tulips, which capture drinking water for ladybugs and provide a cool, relaxing oasis for them to inhabit. With the garden protection that ladybugs provide, they deserve to be pampered!

If you’re interested in using the heroic ladybug to help combat the villains in your garden, it is important that you not use insecticides—which you should try to avoid regardless. Insecticides will not only eliminate most of their food source but also discourage ladybugs from laying their eggs in your garden.

If purchasing ladybugs for your garden, do not release them during the heat of the day. Keep them in a cool place, such as the refrigerator, before releasing them in the evening after the sun goes down. Placing your ladybugs in the refrigerator will not harm them but simply slow them down. Ladybugs do not fly when it’s dark, so this is your best chance at giving them the opportunity to get comfortable in their new living environment. Also, before releasing the ladybugs, water the areas that you will be placing them in so they have plenty of water to drink. Think of ladybugs as house guests; you want them to feel welcomed and comfortable. If your ladybugs are comfortable in their new home, chances are they’ll stick around. You can’t fence ladybugs in, but should they choose to stay and live in your garden they’ll be great heroes in combating those villainous aphids and their sidekicks.

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