Managing Plantings without Pesticides

Kay Hinkle
Adams County Master Gardener

On a recent trip to Central Texas, I was reminded of the importance of integrated pest management or IPM in maintaining our environment safely and successfully. Sometimes I see the world of gardening from my own geographic point of reference here; I was born and bred in South Central Pennsylvania and as a Master Gardener in Adams County, am connected to Penn State University’s Extension Program. My gardening practices are an outcome of what I have learned from my Penn State-trained gardening friends and colleagues. As I travel, I find it interesting to find that many of the same basic gardening principles exist in other parts of the country, despite the very unique differences in climate and soil types.

Early one Sunday morning in January as I sipped my coffee in Austin, TX, I tuned into local programming for the weather report and found a gardening show as I channel-surfed. A woman representing the Growing Green Project for the city of Austin was a guest on the show and she was very interestingly using some familiar Penn State terms like Integrated Pest Management! I couldn’t resist tuning in for the next 15 minutes to see what those familiar terms meant in Texas terms.

First, the topic of using native plants to conserve rainfall was a recurring theme. Much-needed rain was falling throughout our visit to Austin, which put a damper on sightseeing but was otherwise, a happy result for central Texans who find themselves 7 inches behind the norm for the last calendar year. This deficit puts the need for native plantings that can adapt to the trend toward heat and drought a necessity in Austin. Why plant a landscape that is foreign to climatic conditions when you can plant a landscape that will naturally adapt and flourish? Why continuously water plant choices that may not survive anyway, when there are better choices that will survive without constant care and excessive watering?

This Texas planting practice to utilize native plants is prevalent nationwide, from Pennsylvania to Texas and beyond. To witness an excellent local example of native garden plantings, you just need to stop by the Adams County Agricultural Center and take a stroll around the landscaping that surrounds the building at 670Old Harrisburg Road. A team of Master Gardeners focus on plants native to South Central PA and have created a real-life visual of what works so well when we choose those plantings that naturally flourish because they are native to our locale.

Another topic that the Grow Green representative for the city of Austin covered on that rainy morning was an economic means of capturing the falling rain for use later as needed when there is a lack of moisture. For an inventive twist on this Texas phenomenon with valuable potential in South Central Pennsylvania, again, just stop by the Adams County Agricultural Center at 670 Old Harrisburg Road to see the rain garden that incorporates green space strips with macadam parking lot to catch run-off when it rains.

Do you start to see the pattern forming here? Tried and true garden conservation practices are at work in many places despite the differences in demographics and geographic location! As for the IPM reference at the start of this article, it may be the single-most important means of going natural in the garden. Integrated Pest Management is linked to the use of pesticides – or conversely, doing everything possible to manage garden pests without the use of pesticides. For more information on adopting this technique, pick up a brochure at the Ag Center, contact a Master Gardener, or Google it on the internet.

It is often possible to rid your lawn and garden of pests with a spray of water from your garden hose, a simple mixture of dish detergent and water, or a benign insecticidal soap available locally "off the shelf".

Now for one final example of a similar yet different gardening practice, made different because of geography, yet with the same final result. You may have heard this milky spore story before; this time, it has a different twist, so bear with me. We solved a grub problem in our newly planted lawn some years ago by applying milky spore. The target of the application was grubs, which served as a food source for skunks in our Central Pennsylvania lawn. The skunks were really the problem. The milky spore got rid of grubs and that application lasted for years. The skunks moved away from our property to another food source.

Now what critter do you think is the target of an IPM application to a Texas lawn? Grubs in lawns can be a problem in the South. Milky spore applications are indeed recommended in Central Texas. But what is the critter attracted to the grubs? Those pesky grubs attract the even-peskier armadillo, and that’s the Texas twist!

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