We've had problems with squash bugs, Japanese beetles, aphids, cucumber...

Asked February 20, 2014, 7:40 PM EST

We've had problems with squash bugs, Japanese beetles, aphids, cucumber beetles,cabbage butterflies (do I have that right?), vine borers, June beetles and blister beetles to name a few. We're hoping this hard winter will put a hurtin' on some of these pests, but I'd like to get ahead of them this growing season We've heard about use of trichogramma wasps and beneficial nematodes for natural control of insect pests in the garden. We have also heard of using milky spore for the grubs of Japanese beetles. We are really hoping to go the organic route. Can you direct us on the use of these organisms or any other beneficial organisms for pest control? Marianne in Queenstown

Queen Anne's County Maryland

1 Response

Sounds like you have a rogues gallery of pests. We don't generally recommend purchasing beneficial organisms for pest control for a couple of reasons. The wasps, for instance, must be released just when the larvae is a certain stage of maturity. Coordinating that is tricky enough, but the problem is also that you must let the populations of the targeted pest build up so that they can sustain the wasps when they arrive. If you don't have enough of the pests, the beneficial will simply leave in search of more. But, of course, you don't really want to have a lot of the pest in the first place. Applying the nematodes and keeping them alive beforehand is also problematic.

We recommend that you concentrate on using row cover to exclude the pests from the plants in the first place. Many insects have only one generation so you can stop them from ever getting established. Others which have more than one generation in a growing season can be controlled by excluding that first crucial generation from establishing.
Put "row cover" in the search box of our homepage. The first entry has both a video and an accompanying article.
In addition, in our Grow It Eat It section, there is a listing of vegetable garden pests in the left column with life cycles and control options. Read about each insect for the best strategies, including how to use row cover for that pest. http://extension.umd.edu/growit/eco-smart-food-gardening/insect-pests-vegetable-garden

We'd suggest also that you plant many herbs and small flowered plants that attract beneficial insects which will naturally keep your garden more pest free. http://extension.umd.edu/hgic/insects/beneficial-insects-and-organisms

This fact sheet also has lists of good plants for attracting beneficials: http://extension.umd.edu/sites/default/files/_images/programs/hgic/Publications/HG62%20IPM%20A%20Com...