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Q&A: Natural Pest and Disease Control

What's the rationale for "organic gardening"?

First and foremost is the recognition that the earth is a finite resource. Just as the world's oil and coal reserves are being rapidly depleted, so is our topsoil. Organic gardeners respect the condition of their soil and take measures to reduce run-off (a waste of water) and erosion (a loss of fertile topsoil).
Second is the awareness that many of the most heavily used chemical insecticides, fungicides and fertilizers have unintended consequences which are, or are suspected to be, harmful to our health. Dursban and Diazinon are among the chemicals that have been banned for home use. Wildlife species too are endangered by environmental poisons.
Organic methods respect the earth and its creatures while providing an abundant, wholesome harvest that doubly rewards the eco-savvy gardener.

What makes an insect a "pest"?

Let's face it: A mosquito isn't a pest until it bites us, and a beetle isn't a pest until it eats our lunch!
There are over a million species of insects, but only a very small percentage are considered pests in the garden. If you're a typical home gardener, it may seem as if the Destructive Insects Association holds its annual summer picnic in your yard. Gardeners and farmers have been faced with these problems for thousands of years. But we had little knowledge of sophisticated pest control until the mid 20th century, which is when we started using new chemicals (like the now-banned DDT) in huge amounts.

How are Gardens Alive! Products different from synthetic chemical pesticides?

For over 18 years, Gardens Alive! has researched, developed and marketed effective home-gardening products that are environmentally responsible. Our recommendations for insecticides, insect traps and other methods are based on our own gardening experience and annual field trials, as well as the fast-increasing body of knowledge generated by the scientific community.
When possible, we prefer to let Nature's system of checks and balances bring insect pests under control. When necessary, we introduce biological controls to help restore the balance and preserve crops. We use Surround like a "spray-on row cover" that forms a protective barrier between crops and pests. When stronger remedies are needed, botanical sprays (derived from plants) or minerals are preferable to chemical, because they biodegrade relatively quickly.

How can gardeners reduce our need for chemical pesticides?

Prevention- It's easier to control problems if you take action BEFORE they destroy your garden. Inspect your plants often so you spot pest problems early. Use simple techniques to preempt any significant damage. These include Surround, Floating Row Covers and Weed Barrier Mats and pheromone lure traps.

Control- If plant damage has not yet gotten out of hand, preventive measures can still be useful. Also, you can introduce beneficial insect predators that can provide control for the rest of the growing season. Among insecticides, Escar-Go! is the weapon of choice against slugs, Green Step against caterpillar, Rotenone/Pyrethrin Combo against Colorado potato beetle, and Grub-Away Nematodes against grubs and other soil-dwellers. If plant damage is already widespread, botanicals like Pyola may quickly stop the problem.

Reestablishing the Balance- Reintroduce predatory Sta-Home lady beetles, green lacewings and trichogramma to help prevent secondary outbreaks and to reduce the need for further use of the harsher botanical insecticides. Remember that insect pests often "bounce back" from elimination much more quickly than beneficial insects.

Can plant diseases be controlled naturally?

Fungi or bacteria cause a very large number of garden plant diseases. Soap-Shield, a Gardens Alive! introduction has proved to be very effective in fighting a wide range of fungus diseases.
Most mosaic diseases (viruses) and wilt infect plants through wounds caused by insects. That's why many effective products contain botanicals to kill insects as well as minerals to prevent disease infection. But the best way to fight disease in the garden is to try to prevent it in the first place. Avoid wet, soggy soils since they favor many root diseases. Rotate your crops to deter the build-up of plant-specific diseases. Use only disease-free seed and transplants. Maintain good soil tilth and fertility and maintain soil pH between 6.5 and 7.0. At lower pH levels (more acid) disease pathogens are favored. Don't overcrowd plants. Thin them to permit free air circulation and prevent humidity build-up, which fosters disease. And be sure to destroy or discard diseased plants; don't compost them.
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