Pests in the vegetable garden include weeds, insects, mites, diseases, nematodes, and even animals such as raccoons and birds that might consume the vegetable crop (See http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/VH036).
A gardener has many options for reducing pest problems (http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/in197). Pesticides can be harmful to people, pets, beneficial insects, and the natural environment and should be used only after all other pest-management steps have been taken.
Follow recommended planting date(s) listed for each vegetable in Table 1. However, be aware that vegetables planted in late summer or early fall (August or September) will be susceptible to insects and diseases that thrive in hot weather. Likewise, cold-tender vegetables planted in late winter or early spring may be damaged by frosts or freezes if not protected with covers (see “Extending the Gardening Season” above for more information on covers).
Rotate vegetables so that the same vegetable (or members of the same vegetable family) are not planted repeatedly in the same areas. The plant family for each vegetable is listed in Table 1.
Till or hand-turn the soil well in advance of planting to discourage soil insects—especially when the garden is a converted lawn area. The garden soil should be turned and free of weeds, grass, and woody material at least 30 days before planting.
Control weeds in and around the garden because they can be a source of insects and diseases. Weed control is best accomplished by mulching and hand-pulling or hoeing small weeds. Recommended mulches are straw, fallen leaves, and unfinished compost. Wood mulches and un-decomposed sawdust should not be used. Weeds around the outside of the garden and between rows can be reduced by putting down several layers of newspaper and then covering them with leaves.
Choose adapted varieties with resistance or tolerance to nematodes and common diseases.
Purchase healthy transplants that are free of insects and disease symptoms (such as leaf spots or blights). Avoid transplants that are already flowering. Consider growing your own transplants from seed (Figure .
Protect plants from cutworms by placing a collar around the plant. The collar can be made from a bottomless plastic cup or a waxed cardboard carton. The collar should extend a few inches above and at least an inch below the surface of the ground.
Keep plants growing vigorously and in a state of good health by supplying appropriate amounts of water and fertilizer. A healthy plant is often able to survive insect attacks. Too much nitrogen, however, can make plants more inviting to aphids and whiteflies.
Monitor or scout the garden twice weekly for pest problems. This includes inspecting the plants from the bud to the soil, including both upper and lower leaf surfaces. Record notes on pest problems and the performance of different varieties. Include photographs of insects, diseases, and beneficial insects that you find.
Identify beneficial insects (praying mantis, spiders, big-eyed bugs, assassin bugs, lady beetles (also called ladybugs or ladybird beetles), and all wasps). Some of these insects can be purchased, but keep in mind that many beneficial insects exist naturally in Florida, and purchased beneficials will leave if there are no insects for them to eat.
Plant flowers in the vegetable garden. They provide nectar and pollen that attract beneficial insects.
Remove large insects by hand and destroy. Place them in a container of soapy water, where they will sink and drown.
Watch for early disease symptoms. Remove any diseased leaves or plants to slow spread.
Do not panic and start spraying at the first sign of insect damage. Most plants that produce fruits, pods, or ears can stand a 10–20% loss of leaves without loss of potential yields.
Harvest ripe crops promptly. Allowing over-ripe fruits to remain on the plants often invites additional insect problems.
Remove unproductive plants and compost or dispose of them.
Use soil solarization to reduce nematodes—microscopic worms that attack vegetable roots and reduce growth and yield. This technique uses the sun’s energy to heat the soil and kill soil-borne pests. To solarize soil, first remove vegetation, then break up and wet the soil to activate the nematodes. Cover the soil with sturdy, clear-plastic film. Weight down the edges with additional soil to keep the plastic in place. Soil solarization should be done during the warmest six weeks of summer. High temperatures (above 130°F) must be maintained for best results.
Add organic matter to the soil to help reduce nematode populations. Organic matter improves the capacity of the soil to hold water and nutrients and, in turn, improves plant vigor and resistance to pests.
If you choose to use pesticides, follow pesticide label directions carefully.
Use pesticides only when a serious pest problem exists. Your county Extension office can provide information about insect identification. Organic gardeners can use certain products (Bt, for example and others http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/in197).
Protect bees and other pollinators. Apply insecticides late in the daywhen they are less active. Malathion, Carbaryl, and pyrethroids are especially harmful to bees.
Spray the plant thoroughly, covering both the upper and lower leaf surfaces.
Do not apply pesticides on windy days.
Prevent spray burn; make sure the plants are not under moisture stress. Water, if necessary, and let leaves dry before spraying. Avoid using soaps and oils when the weather is very hot.
Control slugs with products containing iron phosphate. Products with metaldehyde as the active ingredient are extremely toxic to animals, such as dogs and wildlife that may be attracted to the bait.
Prevent fungus diseases. Purchase fungicide-treated seed. Many common diseases can be controlled by spraying with fungicides if control efforts begin early—ideally before symptoms appear. Look on the label for these chemical names under “active ingredients”: chlorothalonil, maneb, or mancozeb fungicide. Powdery mildews can be controlled with triadimefon, myclobutanil, sulfur, or horticultural oils. Rusts can be controlled with sulfur, propiconazole, or tebuconazole. Sprays are generally more effective than dusts.
Read the label.
Not every off-the-shelf pesticide can be used on every vegetable or on vegetables at all. Make sure the vegetable and the pest areon the label before purchasing the product.
Follow label directions for measuring and mixing.
Pay close attention to “waiting periods”—the time that must elapse between the application of a pesticide and harvest. For example, broccoli sprayed with carbaryl (Sevin) should not be harvested for two weeks after application.
Follow all safety precautions on the label and keep others and pets out of the area until sprays have dried.
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