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Destroy garden soil insects, weeds now

Randy Drinkard County extension agent

January 17, 2014

Remember all the weeds and insects that invaded your vegetable garden last year? Well, spring planting of home gardens will be here before you know it. And believe it or not, now and not later, is probably the best time to eliminate pesky soil insects, as well as weed seeds. The reason is, once you have planted your garden, there is often very little you can do to control soil insects like white grubs and wireworms or troublesome weeds during the growing season.


A home gardener’s best defense against soil insects and weeds is to avoid them and physically destroy them before they have a chance to take over your vegetable garden later in the year. By taking action now, you can save yourself a lot of time, trouble and expense later on this summer.


Since several of the more commonly used soil insecticides, like diazinon and Dursban, are no longer available to homeowners, so your best option for controlling bothersome grubs and other sol insects may be your rototiller. That’s right. Using your rototiller to turn your garden soil now while it is cold exposes insects, insect eggs and weed seeds to cold temperatures and drying winds. When the soil is workable and not overly wet, rototill your garden to eliminate weeds and kill as many insects as you can.


If you think this sounds harsh, just think ahead to what these little subterranean critters have planned for your vegetable plants. White grubs and wireworms are actually immature beetles. They will feed on plant roots and seeds. They may not kill the plant outright, but they can and often do seriously stunt plant growth.


The key to reducing problems with soil insects in your garden is to keep a clean site. Making sure your garden site is weed-free now will help you be pest-free later. Soil insects are there before you plant. If the garden is host-free now, insects won’t be as attracted to the site and you are less likely to have soil insects after you plant.


Once you start planting, you can avoid many of the early-season problems by using transplants instead of seeds. If you do want to seed, however, be sure to wait until the soil warms up so your vegetable seeds can sprout and grow fast. Aside from soil insects, most other insect problems, like aphids, cucumber beetles and stink bugs, occur after you plant.


Once your garden crops begin to sprout and come up, monitor for insects and control them when necessary using a simple solution such as physical removal of pests. A lot of people don’t realize that if the numbers of pests are limited and you don’t have a huge garden, keeping a close watch and removing insects by hand may be the most efficient control method. Large insect outbreaks, however, may require the use of an appropriate insecticide.


For additional information related to gardening, landscaping, pest and turf management issues, go to the UGA Center for Urban Agriculture’s website at www.ugaurbanag.com and click the ‘Factsheets’ tab. There you will find 260 informative factsheets on a host of environmental and horticultural topics written by University of Georgia County Extension Agents and Specialists.


Randy Drinkard is a retired technical writer for The UGA Center for Urban Agriculture and ANR Agent for Troup Cooperative Extension. The Troup County Extension office is located at 114 Church St. in LaGrange and may be reached at 706-883-1675, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.