BONNIE’S GARDEN – To Spray or Not to Spray

There are a lot of pests and diseases—even nutrient deficiencies—just waiting to pounce on our vegetables/flowers/trees/shrubs. It can be overwhelming to know what to do. So here are some things to keep in mind:

  1. Identify the problem: If you are not 100% sure what the problem is, bring a sample to a reputable garden center to get it identified. If you think it’s a disease and it’s really an insect, you can spray it with a fungicide and it is nothing but a waste of time and money—and it’s not taking care of the problem. Or you might think fertilizer will take care of those yellow leaves when it’s really a cultural problem. Fertilizing a sick plant can make it worse instead of better.
  2. Select the correct solution: There are certain products more effective against caterpillars or slugs or mites, for example, so get a product that specifically mentions your particular problem. Again, if you’re not sure, ask a professional for their input. That’s what garden center employees are here for. Speaking of caterpillars, do remember that all caterpillars turn into moths or butterflies.
  3. READ the label: NEVER ever use any garden product—even an organic one—without reading the label. Note any protective gear it suggests. Some years ago, there was a product on the market for borers (it has since been taken off the market) that had a DANGER (skull and crossbones) symbol on the label. It called for long pants, long sleeves, rubber gloves, goggles. I was out one evening walking the dogs and saw a neighbor spraying a tree in his yard. He was wearing a tank top, cut-off shorts, and flip-flops. We chatted for a minute and I asked what he was spraying. “Something for borers.” I cringed. “Uh, Kenny, did you read the directions?” “No, why?” Why indeed!
  4. More is never better: Do not use a cannon when you really need a slingshot. Never ever exceed the label directions. Over-feeding a plant, for example, can do more damage than underfeeding. Over spraying with a fungicide or insecticide, might take care of your insect or disease problem, but it might damage the plant you’re trying to protect.
  5. Ask if there are organic controls for your problem: It’s better for our environment—and for any wildlife, butterflies, hummingbirds, bees that might be around. However, remember that even an organic solution can harm pollinators if used incorrectly.
  6. If possible, avoid spraying pesticides on plants in bloom: A pesticide cannot distinguish between bad guys like aphids or mealybugs and good guys like honeybees, ladybugs, and butterflies. Several years ago, in Wilsonville, Oregon, a landscape company sprayed Linden trees in full bloom for aphids—killing over 50,000 honeybees, butterflies, and hummingbirds.
  7. Garden products aren’t as smart as you think: A broadleaf weed-killer will kill anything that is not grass. It can’t tell the difference between a dandelion and a geranium. A product that can kill voles can also kill birds, squirrels, cats, and dogs. That’s why you need to read the label to make sure you use the products correctly.
  8. Timing is important: I limit my spraying to the late evening (right about sun-down) to avoid killing any honeybees/butterflies/hummingbirds or damaging tender young foliage. And, because so many of the “bad guys” are night feeders, I’ll get more of them, too.

I am a totally organic gardener so I mostly rely on hand-picking and other organic controls for insects and, instead of weed-killers, simply put on gardening gloves and pull my weeds by hand or pull out my favorite little hoe and chop them out. But, on rare occasions, I do find it necessary to treat insect problems. For example, I read those label directions again—even though I’ve read them before.

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12 thoughts on “BONNIE’S GARDEN – To Spray or Not to Spray”

  1. i brought 17 cleveland pear trees about 10 years ago from Meadows. they have grown too 30ft now beautiful trees. this year after blooming majority of the leaves have turn brown, dropping off. the leaves have spots on them. all the trees are infected. is there anything i can do. thank you for your help

    • Cleveland pears, like most ornamental fruit trees, can get fungal problems, which is what your description sounds like. To be absolutely sure, take a sample to your nearest garden center and have them take a look. There are any number of fungicides on the market that should address your problem.

  2. I need to spray poison ivy, but don’t want to kill my toads.
    You mentioned sundown for insects. your opinion for me?

    • The problem is that toads don’t usually head for home at dark like bees and butterflies do. If you go in just before you spray and make a lot of “commotion” with a hoe or rake, any toads that are in there should leave. Then spray. And read the label on what you spray to make sure it’s safe for animals.

  3. Something is eat my veggie ,I saw a green worm ,ants and some other bugs what can I do I spray garden insert killer by (garden safe)and insecticidal soap still don’t keep them away what can I do next please help

    • Annette–what you likely have are cabbage worms–they go after cabbage family members–broccoli, collards, kale, cabbages, caulifowers…At this point, in mid-June, I’d simple pull up everything–harvest whatever is harvestable. Cabbage family members are “cool season” veggies and thrive in the cooler weather of spring but will begin to die back and “bolt” (set seed) in hot weather so you only have another week or two before the hot weather begins to affect them. That’s why you plant them in later winter/early spring and again in later summer/early fall. You know it’s time to start looking for eggs when you see small white butterflies flying around your cabbage family plants. You can control with row covers or by applying Bt (bacillus thuringiensis) every couple of weeks. They’re also less likely to lay eggs on purple cabbage.

  4. In the past few years, our zuchini gets going but shortly after the first harvest begins, the stems and roots shrivel up. I believe it is some type of larvae killing the plants. Suggestions?

    • Actually, it sounds a bit like root rot. Root rot in squash can be caused by watering too often or by watering with irrigation (because irrigation goes off whether or not a plant needs it yet) and can be a problem in our heavy clay soil. Squash are more prone to squash vine borers, but that causes the ENDS of the vines to wilt. Try growing your squash in a different spot next year as diseases and/or pests can linger in the soil for two or three years.

  5. Bonnie, Dyed mulched…is the dye harmful to potted flowers and flower beds? It seem my potted flowers are not recovering very fast after planting this year. It is the first time I used dyed mulch.
    Rose bush: it has alway been filled with roses that continue to bloom into summer. This year the flowers are just dieing on the entire bush. I am removing all the dead/damaged blooms but new growth is very slow.

  6. Pat, I have a few questions about your summer annuals and your rose. Could you call me here at the Great Big Greenhouse?

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