Florida is home to many different insects, and there are times when all of them seem to be drawn to our vegetable gardens. I am probably not going far out on a limb when I say most new vegetable gardeners feel this way at one time or other. Controlling insects in the garden may seem like a daunting task but with a little effort even gardening newcomers can have much success.
The first step to controlling pests is to try to avoid them. Do this by closely observing the recommended planting dates for your garden vegetables. In springtime, this means planting as early as safely possible, and planting as late in the fall as you can while still allowing enough time for your veggies to mature before it gets too cold for them. When vegetables are planted at the wrong time they are more vulnerable to insect damage because the plants are compromised by the heat (or cold). Florida’s insect population climbs as temperatures rise, so cooler weather helps most veggies get a stronger start before insects are abundant.
Choose vegetable varieties that are resistant to nematodes and common diseases. Diseased plants become weak and are especially susceptible to damage from insects. Inspect store-bought starter plants carefully, making certain they are free of insects, and disease symptoms such as leaf spots.
Removing weeds from in and around the garden is another key to controlling insect populations. Remove all vegetation from your planting beds at least 30 days before planting. Remove weeds from near your garden because they provide a home and source of cover for insects.
Rotating vegetables is a fundamental practice for controlling insects. When we continue planting the same veggies in the same spot, we draw a higher population of insects that are attracted to that particular vegetable. Additionally, planting the same vegetables in the same place year after year depletes the soil of nutrients, leading to weaker plants and making them more inviting to pests.
Keep plants strong and healthy through proper fertilization and irrigation because vigorous plants better fend off insects. Closely inspect your vegetable garden twice weekly for signs of pest damage. Keep a journal and document when pests arrive so you can better be prepared to deal with them in the future.
Some insect damage to vegetable plants is to be expected and is of no great consequence. But when the damage rises to the level of impacting the performance of a plant, the insects must be brought under control. This can be accomplished by physically removing pests or treating the plant with soaps, oils, or chemicals.
Whether you opt for natural pesticides or inorganic pesticides, the key to success is identifying the insects you wish to control, purchasing an insecticide labeled to control the insect and which is approved for use on the vegetable plant under attack, and then properly mixing and applying the pesticide according to label instructions.
Several websites offer images of common garden insects, such as www.garden.org/pestlibrary/bugs.php
Be sure to note the pre-harvest interval, or the number of days which must elapse between application of the pesticide and harvesting the vegetables which have been treated. Also, pay heed to the number of applications allowed for each vegetable. It varies by plant and pesticide.
The most commonly used garden pesticides in the home garden (carbaryl, malathion, and pyrethroids) are especially destructive to bees. It is best to apply these and other insecticides late in the day when bees and other beneficial insects are less active in the garden.