Dry weather in many regions has suppressed fungus diseases – but the warmth promotes insects. The vast majority of garden insects are benign or even helpful and are an important factor when gardening with the environment in mind as they support birds, frogs, hedgehogs and other garden wildlife.
Among the burgeoning summer wildlife are predators and parasites of harmful insects and mites that can damage garden plants. This invisible army of helpful insects is easily disrupted by insecticides – so where outbreaks of aphids or caterpillars occur, non-chemical solutions are the first choice.
Watch for distorted leaves and shoots and for holes appearing in leaves. Early action by picking off or washing away with a jet of water is much quicker and simpler than dealing with severe infestations later.
Plants that provide nectar, pollen and other benefits favour beneficial insects such as hoverflies, leading to a balance that limits harm to plants.
Insect-friendly plants are abundant in later summer – good choices for most soils include Anthemis tinctoria, Heleniums, penstemons, phlox and sunflowers, while for drier soils in full sun consider Amsonia tabernaemontana, Perovskia atriplicifolia and Zauschneria californica. For vegetable gardens, sow quick-growing buckwheat now for September flowers relished by hoverflies. This can reduce harmful species for next year.
Earwigs are also abundant now. Where they damage flowers such as dahlias, place traps of rolled up cardboard in upturned flower pots fixed to sticks among the flowers. Release any trapped earwigs onto fruit trees as valuable predators.
Vegetables are especially prone to damage, with leeks suffering from allium leaf miner and leek moth, and cabbage family crops afflicted by caterpillars. Covering with insect-proof mesh works well for the former while butterfly-proof netting protects against cabbage moths and butterflies, ideally both should be suspended on supports so the cover does not touch the leaves – although impervious to insects they can lay eggs through the gaps.
Natural enemies can be supplemented in greenhouses by buying parasites and predators to address aphids, red spider mite and whitefly. They are a good investment as they will protect for the rest of the growing season.
Red spider mites can also build up outdoors in dry, hot sunny weather, against walls for example, where mottled foliage develops. Look for them under leaves, ideally using a magnifying glass. Watering soil and foliage will help plants withstand attacks.
Thrips (thunderflies) suck plants sap in late summer, leading to mottled leaves. Detect them by shaking affected plants over a sheet of white paper: any thrips present will be easily visible. Well-watered plants can fend off attacks and overhead watering suppresses thrips to some extent.
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