Florida Friendly Landscaping Principle #6: Manage pests responsibly
“Insects all business all the time.”
— David Foster Wallace
Recognizing that there are thousands of insect species, it would be impractical for homeowners to strive for an insect-free landscape, nor should we want to since the great majority of the insects that visit our yards are beneficial. However, we can maintain some semblance of control over that 1% of “bad bugs” which feast on our landscape plants and try our patience. Scientists recommend an approach called Inte-grated Pest Manage-ment, the goal of which is to provide for a safe and low risk approach to pest problems. With this goal in mind, IPM focuses on smart planning, proper maintenance and natural or low toxicity controls.
There are a variety of strategies associated with IPM, moving up the chain from prevention to suppression. Always begin with cultural measures as the first line of defense. This involves the proper selection of landscape vegetation, with a focus on Florida-friendly, pest resistant plant species (think right plant, right place). Oftentimes, beneficial insects are predators of other insect pests so consider creating an environment that serves as an invitation to good bugs such as lady beetles, green lacewings, green lynx spiders and native bees to your yard.
Keeping landscapes healthy reduces susceptibility to disease and pests, thereby reducing the need to take curative measures that could have otherwise been unnecessary had proper care been taken. In the aftermath of plant selection, apply tried-and-true maintenance strategies focusing on proper mowing, fertilizing, pruning and irrigation. Avoid cutting lawns too close. Longer blades means a healthier root system and more drought tolerance. Keep in mind that, with the exception of palms, most established shrubs and trees seldom require supplemental fertilization and, so, apply only as needed and according to label directions. Always clean and sanitize garden tools and avoid over-pruning of trees and shrubs, which can easily cause stress and lead to decline. Water only as needed with the recognition that over-watering stresses your turf and landscape plants and makes them more vulnerable to pests and diseases.
Vigilance is key to catching issues before they get out of hand. Therefore, take a stroll around your property regularly and look for signs of problems, keeping in mind that plant damage which initially appears to be the work of an unwanted insect could actually be the result of something quite different. If you have any doubt, take pictures and share with your local University of Florida Extension Office, where Master Gardener volunteers are available to respond to your questions or concerns. Once a determination is made that a “pest” is the culprit, start with the least toxic method to resolve the issue. Examples include: a spray of water to dislodge unwanted pests, the use of sticky traps and pruning affected parts of vegetation and disposing in the trash. Always remember that, when dealing with damage caused by pests or disease, never let pruned branches lay in the landscape.
Chemical treatments should only be used as a last resort and, then, begin with low impact products such as baits, horticultural oils and insecticidal soaps. Remember that wide-spectrum chemicals are indiscriminate and will kill the good bugs along with the bad. If absolutely necessary use these products only as spot treatments and always follow label directions.
To view more details regarding “Manage Pests Responsibly” and the other Principles of Florida Friendly Landscaping, visit https://ffl.ifas.ufl.edu/materials/FYN_Handbook_2015_web.pdf. “The Florida Yards & Neighborhoods Handbook” is a great resource document for all things Florida Friendly.
Janetta Fox is a member of the Garden Club of Cape Coral and Lee County Master Gardener volunteer.