Gardening: What’s feeding ion your garden? Be insect aware

Eileen Ward

When using integrated pest management in your yard proper identification of insects is a must.

There are many books available with pictures and information on the insects of Florida. A very good one is titled “Florida Insects” and costs less than $5. It is available in the local garden center or hardware store.

A newly released ladybug moves across tiny blossoms at the Raab Park Youth Garden in Poulsbo on Monday, July 11, 2016. A container containing 500 of the beneficial insects were was released by youngsters into the garden where they will feed on crop-damaging aphids, mealybugs and other destructive insect pests.

The Collier County Extension Office in Immokalee has excellent literature on Florida insects as well.

Learn the beneficial insects which will feed on the harmful pests and learn to recognize when they are doing their job.

If aphids, scale or whitefly nymphs have a small pinhole they have been parasitized by a tiny parasitic wasp. If you detect predators every effort should be made to preserve them. Allow the beneficial insects to control the pest population before applying insecticides.

Most plants in the landscape are over sprayed, resulting in unnecessary environmental contamination and often upsetting the natural predator/pest balance. Spray only when a pest population is present and damage is beginning to occur.

Pests of ornamentals are grouped according to the way they damage plants.

Insects with piercing-sucking mouthparts

They have beak-like mouthparts used for piercing the plant tissue and sucking plant juices. Examples: Scales, aphids, whiteflies, mealybugs, thrips and lacebugs.

Foliage feeding insects

They feed on the leaves, flowers or roots. Examples: caterpillars, beetles, grasshoppers and spider mites.

These pests are not insects but closely related to spiders and scorpions.

Leaf miner

These are small larvae of flies, beetles or moths that tunnel between leaf surfaces.


These are either the larvae of moths or beetles which bore into twigs and trunks of plants.

If a population of pests gets out of control use a garden hose and direct a strong spray of water at the stems and undersides of leaves of the plant to lower the pest population.

If you do have to spray try to use the less toxic products such as insecticidal soap. Or Neem insecticide, a derivative of the neem tree, which acts as a reproductive and feeding inhibitor/disrupter, growth regulator.

Pyrethrins from chrysanthemums will paralyze and kill insects. Another is a product line using potassium salts of fatty acids which penetrates the outer shell of soft bodied insect pests causing dehydration and death within hours. Oils, which smother the insects. And Bacillus thuringiensis, dipel or thuricide, a natural bacterium for control of moth or butterfly larvae. This one will also kill mosquito larva.

Insecticides may be required to control pests when they reach damaging levels on the plants. Before using a chemical insecticide you should consider the following points.

  1. Select the right material. Only use an insecticide that is recommended to control the target pest and is safe on the host plant.
  2. Use the right amount. Too little won't control the pest and too much may injure the plant. Read the label for the correct dosage rate.
  3. Apply it in the right way. Thorough coverage of leaves, especially the underside, twigs and branches is essential. The insecticide must reach the area where the pest is feeding. Use of a spreader sticker will aid in the pesticide adhering to and penetrating the leaves for better coverage and control.

There is no one spray that will control all pests of ornamentals. There may be times when you will need to treat with additional insecticides to control different pest infestations on the same plant.

Systemic insecticides are absorbed by the host plant and translocated throughout the tissues, which makes the plant toxic to certain mite and insect pests for up to six weeks. They can be taken up by the roots when applied in granular form or absorbed by foliage or stems using sprays or injections. Systemic insecticides are effective in controlling sucking pests and mites. They do not give satisfactory control of chewing insects. Examples of systemic insecticides are Merit or Di-Syston granules.

Malathion is effective for controlling sucking insects. Sevin controls a wide range of chewing insects. Kelthane controls mites. Read the labels to identify which plants these sprays can be safely used on.

Phytotoxicity, or plant injury, can be caused by certain pesticides on certain plants. The degree of injury can be affected by conditions like temperature, humidity and other environmental factors. It is best to apply pesticides during the cooler part of the day. Plants are less likely to be injured when protected by partial shade as opposed to being in direct sun. Some materials can injure plants that are stressed for moisture. Plants should be well watered a day or two in advance of being treated with insecticides.

Remember -- read the label.

Eileen and Peter Ward have owned a landscape and lawn maintenance company for 35 years. Eileen can be reached at Gswdmarco@comcast.net or 239-394-1413.