It seems like too simple of a concept, doesn't it? One of the most common substances on the planet can actually assist you in keeping bugs at bay. Consider using one or more of the following ideas as you maintain the grass, flowers, shrubs, trees and vegetables on your property this year.
Irrigate to build up plant health during dry times
One way to keep your trees, shrubs, flowers, vegetables and turfgrass growing well is to reduce the stress due to lack of moisture. Stressed plants do not adequately resist pest attacks. Natural rainfall supplies the water needed by most plants in the typical urban/ suburban yard. When rainfall is limited, irrigating with 1 to 1/2 inches of water every 4 weeks will keep an established open turf area from dying. If there are established woody ornamentals present, you will need to double the irrigation rate when turf is present or use a soaker hose (with low water pressure) just inside the drip line once a month for sites without turf. Flower and vegetable gardens need 1 to 1 1/2 inches of water each week; gray water from dish pans and baths can fill this need if municipal water restrictions apply. In years with adequate rainfall, do not overdo a good thing; wet leaves during evening hours can encourage disease problems.
Use strong water sprays to knock off insect pests
One of the simplest and least toxic sprays of all consists of water. Use an appropriate pressure for the plant involved. Aphids dislodged with water from an ornamental plant generally fail to return to previous feeding sites. Spider mite populations can be decreased by regular, strong streams of water directed where the mites are feeding. Some small caterpillars can be washed off a vegetable or ornamental plant with a carefully directed stream of water.
Float or irritate the pests
Cut the bottom out of an empty coffee can (5#) and push it into the grass a few inches where the turf does not appear to be in good health. Fill the can with water and wait. Insects present will float to the surface. Another method to check for insect pests is to mix 1/4 cup dry detergent or 1 ounce of liquid detergent per gallon of water. Pour this mixture over 1 square yard of turf. The irritant material brings sod webworms, bluegrass billbugs, armyworms, cutworms, chinch bugs and many other species to the surface. Take your specimens to the nearest garden center or county extension office for proper identification.
Take the water away from insect pests
Old tires, metal cans, plastic containers or long-lived puddles may serve as breeding sites for mosquitoes. Check your property for these mosquito breeders and remove them whenever possible. Fix leaky faucets and pipes, since these can supply the water needed by wasps, bees, rodents, cockroaches, carpenter ants and termites.
Rid your outdoor hard surfaces of weeds with hot water
Boiling water poured on weeds inhabiting the cracks crevices of a driveway, sidewalk or patio is an alternative to conventional herbicide use. Care must be taken not to injure the person making the treatment or the desired plants in the area.
If conditions warrant the use of a conventional pesticide product, use water to make up just the amount of spray mixture needed. This will eliminate the problem of how to correctly dispose of leftover pesticide mixtures. Follow label directions to the letter so that safety is ensured and the amount of pesticide used in the environment is minimal.
This article originally appeared in the June 9, 2000 issue, p. 66.