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Pesky Bugs and Their Control

By Dan Jewett, Colorado State University Cooperative Extension Master Gardener, Denver County

Gardening creates an interesting question: If it's such an inoffensive and pastoral pursuit, why must we arm ourselves with an arsenal every year to do battle with the bugs?

Some of us try the "defense is a good offense" approach, but usually it results in blanket annihilation of both beneficial and pest insects and it causes harm to our planet.

The better approach is to:

  • Identify the problem. If you don't know what it is, ask your Colorado State University Cooperative Extension office. Telephone numbers are at the end of this article.

  • Decide if the problem needs action. If damage is minor, do you really need to spray, or will natural controls be adequate?

  • Get involved to control the problem. Start with the simple approaches and use stronger ones only if needed. Use an insecticide labeled for your problem and READ THE LABEL! Note that "natural" botanical insecticides are toxic too and require care in use.

Aphids are a common garden pest. They come in green, red, brown, orange and black varieties. Aphids concentrate on plants with soft tissues and on new shoots and leaves of many trees. Some aphids will curl leaves over to make a protective home for themselves.

One of the best aphid controls is a good hosing of the affected plants using a strong spray of water. The commercial soap preparations are highly effective as are the botanical synthetic insecticides available for aphid control.

Caterpillars can do great damage to the garden but there is hope. B.T. or Bacillus thuringiensis, has proven very effective on feeding caterpillars. It is a bacteria that, once eaten, paralyzes the caterpillar's stomach and causes starvation. B.T. has no negative effect on people, birds, pets and other living things.

Mites can be a problem in our climate. If you catch an outbreak early, you may be able to control with a strong spray of water repeated several times over the period of a week. Commercial soap products labeled for mites also should be effective. If necessary, you can use an insecticide or miticide.

Bugs and other pests will be busy throughout the season. They are all just trying to make a living and get by. If the damage they are causing is slight and you don't object, you can leave them to bug one another. If, however, you need to do something, go ahead and do it, but let's try to leave the "Let's Nuke 'Em!" approach in the past, where it belongs.

Your Colorado State University Cooperative Extension offices can provide more information about safe and effective insect pest control.

Photograph courtesy of Judy Sedbrook.

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Date last revised: 01/05/2010