Bug Off: Pest Control Basics
At one time or another, all growers will experience a pest problem of some sort. Here’s what to do.
Sadly, hobby and professional gardeners alike have learned the hard way that a pest-free garden is next to impossible to achieve. The most common plant pests include aphids, spider mites, thrips, fungus gnats and whiteflies.
Some, if not all, are eventually going to show up at some point in your garden and populations can quickly explode out of control if not kept in check. Over the years, I’ve come to realize that prevention, monitoring and control are the three key factors for a healthy and pest-free garden. Here are some strategies to help you in your endeavor to keep pests at bay.
Identification of Common Garden Pests
Identifying what types of pests are in the growroom is as easy as hanging sticky cards around. The pests stick to them and are easier to see. A magnifying glass is a must, as some pests are very small. Once you know what type you’re dealing with, you can take appropriate action.
Before bringing new plants into your growroom, it is a good idea to quarantine and treat them so you know what, if anything, you’re dealing with. Unfortunately, fighting disease is a losing battle. There is only one way to deal with disease and that is to rid your growroom of any afflicted plants. It is a good idea to cover the offending plant with a plastic bag so you don’t spread the disease while moving it out of the room past healthy plants.
Cleanliness, Cleanliness, Cleanliness
I cannot stress enough how important cleanliness is for successful pest control. As a general rule of thumb, it is imperative that you keep floors, growing surfaces, substrates, tools and clothing clean and disinfected. A separate set of tools for the indoor growroom is essential.
Disinfecting tools with isopropyl alcohol and hand washing before moving from one plant to another will stop the pests from being transported via you and your tools. These pests can also be transported into the growroom on your clothes and on pets. Changing into clean clothes and footwear before entering the growroom and keeping pets out will make a big difference.
Atmospheric control will also help keep the air well-circulated. Keep the humidity around 50% with daytime temperatures around 75°F and 60-65°F at night. You can also spray the plants with water, making sure you get the undersides of leaves, and vacuum the plant with a shop vac, which can be done during both vegetative and flowering stages. If even after these precautions are met, you end up with these pests, there are options available for control.
Beneficial Bugs in the Growroom
When it comes to natural insect predators, also known as beneficial insects, or bugs that eat other bugs, there are specific predators for specific pests or general predators that will pretty much eat anything. Which route you take will depend on how much money you can afford to shell out. As a rule, specific predators are more costly than general predators, but the specific predators usually do a better job, especially if there is an infestation.
I find ladybugs are the best all-around general predator and very cost effective at a price of about $20 per thousand. You can also get ladybug food, which is mixed with water and sprayed onto the plants when there is no food supply. Beneficial food helps to keep the predators on the plants. It also encourages breeding, which leads to larvae and the larvae are voracious eaters. Beneficial insects are a great option for any garden and can be added to the growroom as soon as you introduce your plants.
Chemical and organic sprays are another choice for controlling pests. These sprays are toxic to beneficials so they cannot be used together. There are also insecticidal sprays designed for use on edible plants. Insecticidal soaps, neem oil, habanera pepper spray and pyrethrum are some examples of these non-toxic sprays that can be purchased or made at home. Many of these sprays work only if they come in contact with the pest. Sprayers help by creating a fine mist to help get under the leaves and into cracks and crevices. For safety’s sake, I suggest paying a visit to your local hydroponics retailer for application rates and methods.
In closing, stay diligent and remember the three keys to a pest-free growroom: prevention, monitoring and control. And although I agree with Andrea Arnold who said, “I love insects. They are amazing,” the growroom is no place for some of them!