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A little planning will keep the bugs away
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There is one big drawback to growing plants in our climate — pests enjoy the same conditions our plants do.

High humidity and warm temperatures make pest pressure in the Southeast the highest in the nation. Diseases, insects and weeds are all aggressive in Georgia and, at times, gardening can get to be almost intimidating.

Thankfully, there is hope for Georgia gardeners. By practicing IPM or integrated pest management in our gardens all year long, we can substantially reduce pest pressure. IPM is the use of all available tactics (biological, cultural and chemical) to control pests.

The following is a list of things we can do to get a jump on weeds, insects and diseases in our landscapes and vegetable gardens this spring:

Be vigilant! Scouting weekly and keeping good records of pest attacks, cultural methods and chemical applications can avert large pest outbreaks over the season. Look closely at the trunks of trees, the buds of flowering plants, the undersides of leaves and around your home for signs of insect damage. Know the enemy! Familiarize yourself with our most common pests.

Apply pre-emergent herbicides at the appropriate time to lawns to prevent the weed infestations that are bound to occur. This will reduce herbicide use throughout the summer.

Think about what cultural measures you might employ to keep plants healthy and resistant to pest attacks. Proper fertility, irrigation, mulching, plant site selection and pruning will help assure tougher plants.

Use pest resistant varieties of plants in vegetable gardens and flowerbeds. Pest resistance is often listed on the labels of vegetables and some ornamentals.

If trying to control caterpillars, try an environmentally friendly product called Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis). Bt is derived from a naturally occurring bacteria that has inherent insecticidal properties. Bt should be used when the caterpillars are young. The caterpillar must ingest the Bt for it to be effective. Bt can be found under several brand names such as Dipel, Thuricide and BT Caterpillar Killer.

When infestations do occur, using all control tools available will reduce pesticide use and preserve beneficial insects.

Billy Skaggs is an agricultural agent and Hall County extension coordinator. Phone: 770-531-6988. Fax: 770-531-3994.