In the garden with Felder: Oh, those pesky critters

August 25, 2018 10:01:22 PM



There's little more disheartening than tending a bed or potful of homegrown food this sultry time of year. There are tricks to help pull it off, but they won't ease the angst. 


Hot? Dry? Weedy? Bugs beating you to most of your goodies? Welcome to my own garden world. Still, let's plod on, one step after another.  


You know the drill. Get to the garden in the morning when it's still kinda cool, wear loose clothes and stay hydrated. Water early, slowly but not often, so roots will grow deep. Mulch everything, including potted plants. 


And, sorry for both you and me, because what will kill most weeds can kill vegetable plants, the best approach this time of year is old-fashioned pulling and slicing. But a sharpened hoe will easily slice weeds at ground level without turning up more weed seed. Mulch will help keep veggies unwrapped for a while. 


As for critters ... well, good luck. There is no miraculous deus ex machina that'll show up at the last minute to save the garden. Other than a fence or netting, there's nothing practical I can recommend against squirrels, rats, deer, rabbits or birds. If there were, I'd use it myself. And yeah, I've heard, read and tried it all. 


Insects are a different story. Beneficial creatures like wasps, spiders, praying mantis and lizards can control a little, but you have to leave some bad bugs around for them to eat or they'll leave. Without aphids, ladybeetles won't stick around. For monarchs, swallowtails and other butterflies, somebody's got to leave a few caterpillars.  


These days we no longer have any long-lasting preventive insecticides to apply ahead of time, meaning you have to wait until little fiends show up before dusting or spraying. And by the way, sprays generally get better coverage and work better than dusts; apply them to undersides of leaves where bugs hide, late in the day when bees and butterflies are gone. Add a little liquid dish detergent to help sprays spread out and stick on better.  


But the big decision is what to use. Not all insecticides kill all insects (Sevin, for example, only controls chewing type insects, not suckers). And not all are safe to use on all vegetables; even then some have a waiting period between application and safe harvest. So before applying anything, including organics, look for three things on the label before using: What is it supposed to kill, what vegetables is it safe to use on, and is there a waiting period.  


If you want a decent publication on common garden insects and their biological, organic, or chemical controls plus a quick reference handy chart, go online to, click on "publications," and type "garden insects" in the search box. Any questions, call your county Extension office.  


All said and done, unless you just need to take a little breather, don't just throw up your hands and let it all go to weeds. When something gets harvested, killed or just worn out, lightly rework the dirt and cover it with mulch as a place holder until you get around to starting a new crop, now or later.  


For the next few weeks we can plant all sorts of stuff for fall harvest, including gambling on some late peppers, but especially cool weather veggies like collards, kale, broccoli, cabbage, root crops from see and colorful lettuces and other greens. If you can water the seeds and small transplants, using mulch to keep the soil cool and moist, and control insects, you can get a great harvest this fall. 


Don't give up. Weather'll get better soon.  


Felder Rushing is a Mississippi author, columnist, and host of the "Gestalt Gardener" on MPB Think Radio. Email gardening questions to [email protected]