Use Netting for Frost and Insect Control

One of the things that many home gardeners use netting for is frost protection (but not insect control) but there is increasing use of fine netting in Europe that we can learn from here in our home gardens.

Organic fruit growers have been using fine mesh netting (white in color) for hail protection as well as codling moth protection. For the record, the mesh size on this product is .12″ by .29″ (very fine so insects can’t get through but air and light can)

Research in France shows this size mesh also reduces aphid damage (rosy apple aphid) and there are increasing moves to use it commercially as their pesticide regulations are much more restrictive than N.A. commercial orchards.

It is a great way to control a range of insects and it is applied in spring “after” flowering is finished (to allow bees to pollinate the fruit). Apparently, in France, the microclimate temperature increases under the cloth are minor and don’t bother fruit. I can’t say the same here in N.A. so you’d have to run some trial on small amounts of fruit.

I also suspect it could be used in the production of a wide range of vegetables that weren’t insect pollinated (like tomatoes that are also wind-pollinated) or that we don’t want or need pollinated (cole crops etc) Crops with bee pollination and insect damage that coincide (squash family) wouldn’t work too well with this system.

Bottom line

This is a perfect way to increase pest management in the home garden without having to resort to any kind of pesticide. One or two short trees (dwarf or semi-dwarf) could easily be covered.

The issue is going to be finding the netting and when/if I find that resource, I’ll pass it along here. If any of you do find tree-sized netting for consumers, post it here.

In the meantime, here’s a link to Frost Fabric which will do almost the same thing and provides a measure of frost control for northerly gardens. (Probably a better bet in the long run anyway.) While it’s not the same thing as the material the Europeans seem to be using, it is readily available and will act to prevent insect damage on vegetables.

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Bounce Fabric Softener Dryer Sheets and Fungus Gnats.

Image courtesy Open Clip Art Pixabay

This is no longer news as it was originally posted in 2011, but it’s still a good technique for controlling this pest.

Here’s the deal.

Raymond A. Cloyd (Kansas State University, Dept. of Entomology) and colleagues hung these dryer sheets around infected plants and found they did have repellent properties. Fungus gnats avoided the area. (I’m told there’s also anecdotal evidence these sheets repel mosquitoes as well) 🙂

The chemicals in the sheets were analyzed and found to contain Linalool — known to be toxic to mites and Citronella — lemon scent we already know has short-term repelling characteristics. There were other chemicals associated with insect repelling as well but you get the idea. These things tend to work.

They are not going to be considered strictly organic by any stretch of the imagination.

And just to make life a bit more interesting, other products in the class may contain other chemicals that don’t work as well so you’re going to have to do your own trials if you decide to go down this road.

My bottom line

Fungus gnats survive on soil algae for the most part and this is caused mostly by overwatering. So fix your watering first. Don’t rely on one more set of chemical cures to counteract poor garden management practices.

Having said that, if I were still starting hundreds of thousands of seeds every spring in the nursery, I’d have to think about hanging them around the propagation house like clouds. 🙂

We never really had a serious outbreak but here and there (mostly due to variations in the ventilation patterns or soil differences) I’d see them pop up.

A bit of insecticidal soap as a spray and drench also worked nicely for me.

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Fungus Gnat Larvae Damage

One of the things many folks don’t understand is that if they see small fungus gnats flying around their plants, these insects do have larval forms (really, really small worms) that can burrow into the roots and below-ground stems (in cuttings) of plants.

To make matters worse, it turns out these small larvae also carry Botrytis, Pythium, Fusarium, Phoma and Verticillium spores to infect your plants.

A quick organic control is to cover yellow sticky cards with Tanglefoot or other long-acting horticultural glue and lay them “horizontally” near the soil surface. The adults will land on the traps and be stuck (thus no egg-laying will happen).

If you have a basic hand lens, fungus gnat larvae are wormlike with a black head capsule and a white to transparent body.

There are two ways to easily control them besides the yellow sticky trap:

  • dry the cuttings out *once they have rooted* so the soil dries out but doesn’t wilt the cutting.
  • the second is to flood the cutting with insecticidal soap.

I’ve never killed a cutting with this flooding but your results may vary depending on what you’re propagating. And the same goes for mature plants – dry them out more because the adults are likely feeding on microscopic soil algae.

6 Butterfly Garden Design Rules

These are the easiest and most important things you can do to attract butterflies to your garden

Photo by Justin DoCanto on Unsplash

Do Not Use Pesticides

The first thing to understand is that butterflies are the adult form of caterpillars.

So in order to get the butterflies you have to encourage the first stage of their development — caterpillars. Spraying with chemicals to prevent plant damage will kill caterpillars.

You need to allow the caterpillars to grow and eat freely so they’ll develop enough strength to turn into butterflies.

Butterflies Love Hot Colours

This means you emphasize yellow and red flowers in the butterfly garden.

Plant in Big Clumps

You want to attract butterflies — there’s not much brain power there so you have to give them a really big target. Plan on putting in large clumps of their favorite plants. In this case, bigger really is better. For example, instead of planting a single yellow Marigold or a long line of them, plant in clumps of three to give a larger target.

In other words, put a minimum of three of any one kind of plant in a clump to create a large bloom display.

Full Sun

Butterflies prefer full sun so your garden design efforts should focus on creating that full sun garden for them. The sunnier the better. If you have to choose between morning sun and afternoon sun, go with the morning sun.

But I have a shade garden! Sorry but this isn’t going to be a major butterfly garden.

A second characteristic would be to have the garden protected from high winds. I often watch butterflies tack back and forth in the wind off our island garden and it’s a lot of work for them to make headway. Make it easy if you can.

Add water.

Now this is something most gardeners ignore in their butterfly garden design work.

Adding water is a simple thing because you don’t need a pond. Here’s how you do it.

  • Dig a very shallow, round depression (24-inches across by 6-inches deep) and …
  • Either line it with plastic (garbage bags work well and are inexpensive) or sink a plastic garbage can lid in it (the garbage can lid works really well).
  • Do not puncture it for drainage. The objective is to create an area where it stays very muddy.
  • Put the soil from the excavation back into the depression and water heavily and often. Hint: do not leave standing water, you want the butterflies to land on muddy ground, not on the water.
  • Butterflies will congregate on this very muddy ground regularly to sip up the water.

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Important Note About Landscaping Around The Water.

My advice is to leave the area around this mud hole bare — don’t plant tall flowers to make it pretty. This way, you can watch the butterflies sitting on the ground in one spot and the butterflies can see cats and other predators. Put plants for the butterflies and caterpillars in other parts of your garden.

Add Stones

Put some stones around the muddy area so they’re in the morning sun. These stones will heat up and butterflies (which love the radiant heat) will often be found snoozing and overnighting on these rocks.

Rocks in the afternoon sun heat up too late in the day to get the butterflies moving and will be far less effective.

For More Detailed Information On Butterflies In Your Garden, click here

Do You Like The Smell Of Petunias? Neither Do Some Insects

Do You Like The Smell Of Petunias?

It turns out that neither do a large number of insects and in fact, it turns out that the isolated compound that forms that smell will kill several important garden pests


“You probably know methyl benzoate when you smell it. The natural compound’s wintergreen-spicy, floral-fruity aromas make it a popular ingredient in perfumes, soaps, and shampoos.

Snapdragons and petunias emit methyl benzoate to attract bees for pollination. Many insects also produce it as an attractant.

petunia integrifilia
Petunia integrifolia

But not all insects like this compound.

Zhang (the head research lead on this study)says. “But we found one compound—No. 19—that strongly repelled SWD (spotted wing drosophila fly ), and we later showed that it killed SWD as well.”  (Note: Number 19 was the methyl benzoate.)

According to Zhang’s tests, methyl benzoate is 5 to 20 times more toxic to eggs of BMSB, diamondback moth, and tobacco hornworm than a conventional pyrethroid insecticide, a sulfur and pyrethrin mixture, and some organic products currently on the market.”

Note that the Tobacco Hornworm and the Tomato Hornworm both eat tomatoes and other garden crops.

Also, I’ve had two folks ask about this – just planting petunias next to another plant will have absolutely no impact on that plant. That would be considered Companion Planting is pretty much an old wive’s tale. You’re going to need the active ingredient and as I point out, the jury is still well out whether you can make a “tea” of some kind to create that effect on the home scale garden.

Link to Research Article


Organic Aphid Control

5 Things You Want To Know About This Common Garden Pest

organic aphid control

Aphid control means 1) understanding what this pest looks like so you’re 2) using the right technique to control the problem.

Note: Aphids come in black, very pale green that appears almost white and I’ve even seen the odd pinkish one. You’ll mostly find aphids on the growing tips of plants or under the leaves.

Identifying the Problem

Aphids use a sucking mouth part to pierce the leaf and suck the juices from it. In severe infestations, the sap running from the leaf will be attacked by fungus and (mixed with the nutrients from aphid excreta) will turn black. It will resemble a black streaking or soot on the leaves.

And it is sticky should you care to put your finger on it to check. Leaves or growing tips of plants will also be stunted or curled as the growing points were damaged by feeding.

The nice thing about aphids is they are considered “food” by a large number of good garden insects (such as the ladybug shown here with the aphids). You’ll that most of the pests are eaten before they become a problem.

ants tending aphids
Image by Jerzy Górecki from Pixabay

Simple Control System

Aphid control is usually as simple as knocking them off garden plants by using a strong jet of water. This jet knocks them off the plant to the ground where beetles and other predators make short work of them. They will not survive to recolonize your plant.

What Many People Don’t Understand But You Should

Many people only use one of these control methods once and expect the problem to disappear.

  • This is not the way it works with aphids. They are so prolific, you’ll have to use one of the control methods every three days for at least 10 days. This, in theory, should knock them back.
  • The second thing is you have to alternate at least two different methods of control. So knock them off the first time with water. Three days later use a soap spray. Three days after that, repeat the water. Three days after that, use a different organic control system.
  • Continue alternating every three days (and if you add a third method that will help even more) until you’ve knocked them back. And then continue monitoring.

If You Have to Spray

If you really want to spray something, Insecticidal Soap will kill them, as will Neem.

I note Rotenone dust (note this can be harmful to humans and you should wear a mask when using!) and Diatomaceous Earth are also labelled for this pest in many areas.

If there’s only a few, such as on the growing tips of roses, then a quick swipe of the hand will crush them (it’s a bit gross but it works effectively). But the easiest, quickest, cleanest and safest is a strong jet of water.

And no, using water in this way once or twice a season is not going to increase the incidence of molds or fungal problems.

Aim Spray Properly

Remember that you have to get any kind of spray or dust (be it a strong water jet that does it naturally or a nozzle pointed upwards) under the leaves to kill the bulk of the population that are hiding from sight.

Spraying the tops of the leaves doesn’t work at all.

Aphid control is one of the easiest techniques in the organic gardening world; this is a good thing because aphids are the most numerous pest.

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