Start Monitoring for Garden Pests Today

Whether it’s slugs, squash vine borer, or Colorado potato beetle, home gardeners know that every year some creepy crawly is looking for a free meal in their vegetable patch. Unfortunately, pest management in home gardens often relies on a reactive, spray-oriented approach to these pests rather than taking a more engaged attitude that helps to prevent problems. You can change that through integrated pest management and focusing on monitoring for pests before they become a true issue.

Integrated Pest Management

Integrated pest management, also known as IPM, is a philosophy of pest management that intends to use all the available tools at our disposal to help suppress pest populations. This can look different depending on the pest being managed and the situation in which the pest is an issue. In the home garden, some simple pest management tools can include cultural methods such as:

  • Fall garden sanitation, which removes overwintering habitat for pests,
  • Physical methods, such as floating row covers, which exclude pests from plants, and
  • insecticidal control, such as spraying Bt when dealing with caterpillars.

IPM is not an organic approach necessarily; IPM can include synthetic insecticides when they are the appropriate method of suppression.

Need for Monitoring

IPM can only be successful when monitoring is included as a step in the process. Large scale growers, home pest control operators, and even mosquito abatement coordinators all use monitoring to know where their target pest populations are in their life cycle and population size. Home gardeners, too, need to remember this important tactic. Monitoring for signs and symptoms of insects and other arthropods allows you to know if your management tools, like sanitation, have been successful or can also tell you when to enact physical control strategies, such as floating row covers or when to spray specific insecticides. Monitoring is also the easiest thing to neglect in a pest management plan; it takes time and resources and can seem like a drain (especially when you aren’t catching anything).

This spring, you can commit to using monitoring to better understand what pests are trying to infiltrate your garden. The simplest form of monitoring is to just use your eyes to look for known pests in the garden; they tend to be visible, and if they aren’t noticeable, then the damage they create will be. Holes chewed into leaves or flowers, cupped and curled leaves, honeydew on leaves, and insect droppings–all of these methods can help with identification of a problem and tell you it’s time to act. You can also get a little more technical and start using traps to catch pests even earlier in the process.

Trapping for Garden Pests

First, trapping for garden pests should not be considered a control tactic. The tools listed here likely won’t suppress pest populations in your garden. They will tell you what pests are around though, so consider them sentries or security guards for you. This list also isn’t comprehensive but should be a good start for those who are interested. Finally, traps only work if they are checked. Putting out any of these traps in May and then remembering it in September means that it wasn’t monitoring, but just slowly rotting in the field. Check traps every other day or weekly, as your schedule allows, to look for possible upcoming pest problems.

Yellow sticky cards: These glue-covered traps will work for monitoring aphids, thrips, whiteflies, mealybugs, mites, and fungus gnats. They work in the home garden as well as near houseplants or in high tunnels. The cards should be placed at plant height and adjusted through the growing season to track with the tops of plants. They can be clipped to bamboo poles or other objects to achieve this.

Baited traps: Using shallow containers (such as water dishes, lids to jars, etc. or 2-liter bottles with the top 1/3rd cut and then inverted into the rest of the bottle) you can create a baited trap that pests will be attracted to but will be unable to escape from. Baits can include beer (for slugs), fruit juices (for various pests), or apple cider vinegar (various fly pests), amongst others.

Yellow bowl traps: A yellow plastic bowl filled with soapy water can attract and capture things like squash vine borer, aphids, and many other pests. The bowls act as a super stimulus the insects can’t ignore, and the soapy water will kill them as they fly in.

Figure 1: A yellow sticky card can be the size of an index card or double that. They are coated in glue and can snare quite a few different types of pests. (Photo: Arbico Organics).
Figure 2: A yellow bowl trap can be used particularly for assessing when squash vine borer adults are flying. Once you capture a moth in the trap, you can treat your plants or place a row cover to prevent the females from laying eggs. (Photo: Luciana Musetti, The Ohio State University).

Board or newspaper traps: Placing boards or newspaper on the ground in the garden can create an attractive harborage for squash bugs, slugs, and other garden pests. These can be checked in the morning for pest presence and can also be a good “corral” where you can kill pest groups early in the morning before they warm up and get moving.

Trap plants: These are low cost, easy to grow plants that can be placed near desired plants to act as a monitoring plant. They are attractive to specific pests and will recruit them before the actual crop does. Once on the trap plant, you can either control them there or enact a protective measure for your actual crops. Blue Hubbard squash (squash bugs and squash vine borer), sunflowers (stinkbugs), amaranth (cucumber beetles), and marigolds (mites) are some examples.

With these traps in the garden, you’ll be better prepared to catch pests before they cause damage and hopefully end up with more produce on the table this summer!

By Jonathan L. Larson, Entomology Extension Specialist

Posted in General Pests
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