It’s a brave new world for gardeners and insect pests that bother them.
“There’s a growing understanding that chemicals are not the answer,” says Dr. Michael Brownbridge, research director of Horticulture Production Systems at the Vineland Research and Innovation Centre in Ontario.
“A few years ago, biological pest control was thought of as a sideline, but not anymore,” he says. “We seem to have reached a tipping point, and now the time is right for the use of more biological controls,” he says.
He knows biological solutions to insect pest problems aren’t yet easy to find for the average gardener, but he is confident that will change in a year or two. “People are just getting into it. It’s still a big learning curve. But we’re here to try to meet those challenges, to provide people with good information and tools.”
The Vineland facility is one of a few in Canada to do research on biological ways to control pest infestations, particularly in grass and ornamental species. Information on the topic has traditionally been scattered and disconnected, but Brownbridge and his team, often working with other researchers across the country, are collaborating to improve and develop new ways to control pests without using harmful chemicals.
For example, consider the lowly nematode, a naturally occurring tiny worm that happens to feed on grubs, particularly the white grub that can decimate lawns by munching away the roots from underneath. Brownbridge and his team have been working with a group of Kwantlen College researchers, in Langley, British Columbia, to develop a system of best practices to apply nematodes to Ontario lawns.
Another biological solution under development is for the chinchbug, which loves to suck the juice out of tiny stalks of grass, effectively killing the grass. Brownbridge, his team and University of Saskatoon-based federal agriculture specialists are developing a fungal and bacterial spray that introduces a concentrated blast of chinchbug-killing diseases.
These pathogens are normally present in the soil, but at lower levels, and are harmful only to the target species, he explains.
• One of the best ways to avoid bugs in the first place is to ensure that you have a vibrant, resilient ecosystem, complete with healthy soil and a wide variety of beneficial insects, such as bees, spiders, ladybugs, and lacewings. Here are some pointers on how to do this.
• Do not spray broad-scale insecticide since it kills all garden bugs.
• Grow flowering plants that produce nectar and pollen, similar to those found in wild-flower mixtures, such as Black-Eyed Susans and other native meadow flowers. These attract beneficial bugs that pollinate or eat plant-munching bugs.
• Add organic compost annually and work it into the soil to keep soil organisms healthy and active.
• Use mulch to conserve moisture and keep weeds from crowding out your plants.
• Water and care for your plants on a regular basis. Stressed plants are more likely to be attacked by pests or disease.
• Keep an eye on your plants to detect problems early.
• If you must use a pesticide use a gentle solution.