Issue: January 2005

Good Planning Helps Fight Garden Pests

January is a good time to draw up pest control plans for the spring garden.

Apart from insects, pests include diseases, weeds, snails, rodents, birds, dogs and even neighborhood kids with balls.

Some simple techniques can protect the garden from animals and birds. A strong fence, for example, will keep out most dogs and soccer balls. Hoop-supported spun bonded row covers can help protect vegetable seedlings from birds, while netting draped over grapes will keep their beaks off vines. White colored row covers can help repel prairie dogs.

For weeds, the best control method is a hoe or hand cultivator. Pulling weeds is great exercise, and the debris can be recycled in the compost pile.

Plastic (black) and organic mulches can help control weeds. The mulch shades the ground, preventing weed seed from germinating. Mulches also help conserve moisture by reducing water evaporation from the soil. Organic mulches left on the ground will return nutrients to the soil through a process called sheet composting.

Fungicides can help prevent fungus. However, they must be applied to host plants before a fungus develops, which means gardeners often end up applying fungicide when it's not needed.

Try using drip irrigation. It reduces humidity, which lowers the chance of fungal attacks. Also, choose disease-resistant crop varieties.

Check plants daily for egg cases. Eggs of the Harlequin Bug and Squash Bug can be crushed by hand to reduce populations.

However, don't disturb praying mantis egg cases. Praying mantises are beneficial insects that feed on pests in the garden.

Use a hose with a jet nozzle to knock aphids off Brussels sprouts. Put paper collars around young transplants in spring to reduce damage from cutworms.

Also, buy a pet turtle for the garden. It will eat garden snails, but be careful it doesn't also dine on low-lying tomatoes and cantaloupe.

Many insects must be controlled with pesticides. The term pesticide is often confusing. It refers to both chemical and biological formulas that kill pests. Herbicides and fungicides are also classified as pesticides.

Biological formulas are often safer than chemical insecticides. In fact, many chemicals used as pesticides can only be obtained with a pesticide applicator license.

Before applying pesticides, clearly identify the targeted insects. The county Extension office has guidelines on collecting and identifying specimens.

When using a pesticide, carefully read and follow all directions. The labels contain information to protect homeowners, crops and the environment.

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For more gardening information, visit New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service publications world wide web site at

George W. Dickerson, Ph.D., is is a horticulturist with New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service. New Mexico State University is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer and educator.

Also Please join us on Southwest Yard & Garden, a weekly garden program made for gardeners in the Southwest on:
KNME-TV Albuquerque at 9:30 p.m. Saturdays,
KENW-TV Portales at 10 a.m. Saturdays,
and KRWG-TV Las Cruces at 11:30 a.m. Saturdays (repeated at 1 p.m. Thursdays.)