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Wally Richards: Christmas garden pest control

I would like to wish you all a very happy Christmas and a great gardening year for 2012.

Your gardens and plants should be looking very nice for the festive season and you can take pride in your efforts over the last few months, when family and friends visit.

Now the weather is starting to improve, you will need to keep your gardens watered and if going away, ensure that moist bare soil is covered with a suitable mulch to conserve moisture.

THE  PESTS OF XMAS GARDENS

With improving weather there are a number of insect pests that can spoil our plants if we are not careful. Over the year I have endeavoured to show you how to obtain healthy plants by caring for the soil life and using beneficial mineral products, rather than the harmful chemical sprays and fertilisers.

Many of you have reported back, after following my advice in these columns or from reading my book, that your gardens have never been better. That is great stuff to hear and visual proof of the methods which you can relate to. Keep up the good work.

Healthy plants maybe more disease free but they are still vulnerable to some insect pest problems, though often far less than unhealthy plants.  In nature the balance is achieved through beneficial insects called predators keeping the populations of pest insects low.  It takes time to build up populations of predator insects in your gardens and the past use of chemical sprays has greatly reduced their populations.  Some gardeners who have taken care to look after the predators in their gardens report good populations which keep most pests under control.  Remember the saying, ‘The enemy of my enemy is my friend’ which is very true in our gardens.

Our friend in the garden

Ladybirds, praying mantis, predator wasps and small birds are our friends

as they will keep the pests numbers low. To this end, it is important that we do not kill off all their food sources and allow a few pests to live and provide food for our friends.

At the same time we do not want to allow the pests to run amok and damage our plants so let’s have a look at the safe control methods for keeping pest numbers down without harming our friends. Neem Tree Granules has to be one of the easiest methods of control for pests on a number of plants. Simply sprinkle the granules on the soil in the root zone of the plants you wish to protect, as the granules breakdown they release the Neem properties, which are taken up by the plant’s roots.  The properties translocate through the foliage and when a pest eats/sucks a little of the foliage they get a small dose of Neem and stop eating, to die later. This works very well on some plants and to a lesser degree on others. The granules are perfect for the control of whitefly and caterpillars on tomato plants, outdoors or in a glasshouse.  They are also very effective on caterpillars that attack brassicas.

Pest soil insects such as root mealy bugs and carrot fly are easily controlled by applications to the soil. The granules need to be replaced about every 6 to 8 weeks and you can experiment with them on any garden plants which are attacked and eaten by insect pests.

If you find the granules do not have the desired control on some types of plants or if you have large pest populations already on the plants, then you will need to spray occasionally with safe sprays such as Neem Tree Oil and Key Pyrethrum. These two sprays can be mixed together but should only be sprayed just on dusk because the pyrethrum is very quickly deactivated by UV.

Key pyrethrum is a quick knock down spray where the Neem Tree Oil gives extended control through its anti feeding and growth regulator properties. The normal spray program would be two sprays 7 days apart then followed by one 14 days later and a final spray a month later. If problem persists then keep spraying about every 7 to 10 days. Neem oil is considered safe in regards to predictor insects but pyrethrum is not as it will kill all that come into contact with it.

Spider mites can easily and quickly controlled with a spray of Liquid Sulphur and Raingard. Normally, one complete coverage spray is all that is needed but a word of warning never mix with Neem Tree Oil as the two will burn foliage. In fact a period of at least 2 weeks should be applied to any plants where the oil or the sulphur has been used before using the other.

Liquid Copper with Raingard added is very effective in controlling cherry/pear slugs on plum, pear and cherry trees. The same copper spray will also protect plants from snails and ordinary garden slugs while the copper is present.

Leaf hoppers are a big problem pest for many and a number of sprays 7 days apart, using the Neem Tree Oil will be needed to obtain control.  The Neem Tree Oil sprays will cover all pest insect problems (not pear slugs or garden snails/slugs) and by adding Raingard to the spray will extend its control period.
The combination of Neem Tree Oil spray and Neem Tree Granules is needed to control mealy bugs on any plants. The granules get the mealy bugs in the root zone and the oil takes care of the ones on the plant’s foliage.
The new pests such as the potato psyllid can be controlled with regular sprays of Neem Oil ensuring total coverage of host plants.

As mentioned previously in articles the felt pads soaked in Neem Tree Oil and wrapped around the trunks of Rhododendrons is an effective control for thrips on larger rhododendrons which are difficult to spray. Bands are left on for only one month. Neem Tree Oil can be applied to tanks in hydroponic systems to control pests on plants growing in these systems.   I have been told of some people that have used it for head lice diluted down to normal spray application strength I presume.  A farmer told me he used it for maggot control and other pests on sheep. Fleas n dogs can be controlled by adding Neem Oil to their shampoo.  I do know of trials where the Neem tree Oil has proved successful in the control of a number of leaf diseases such as black spot and rust. Some rural gardeners have also told me that their garden plants sprayed with Neem Tree Oil has prevented/reduced possum and rabbit damage. Likely as time goes by we will find many more uses for the Neem Tree and its extracts.
One thing for sure is that Neem Tree Oil and Granules are far safer and better to use than poisonous chemicals.

Have a great Xmas. Wally Richards

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