CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- I'll probably get letters from all of the chemical lawn-control businesses by writing this column, but I get questions all the time asking for alternative ways to control pests in the yard. I have some suggestions.
An environmentally safe way to control grubs, especially in lawns, is milky spore. Milky spore is a disease that specifically targets Japanese beetle grubs and, once in the soil, continues to control them for 20 years. Milky spore will not spread in the soil unless grubs are present. The more grubs there are, the faster the disease spreads among them, according to www.extremelygreen.com's pest-control guide.
How does it work? After milky spore has built up in the lawn, infected beetle larvae (grubs) will die and decay, releasing billions of new spores into the soil. This process continues year after year. Once the soil is saturated with spores and the grubs are destroyed, milky spore remains dormant and viable, ready to go to work once again should new grubs appear.
Milky spore can be purchased in powder or granular form. The powder can be used for smaller areas (small lawns, mulch beds and gardens) and the granular form is used with a standard drop spreader, but it must be applied in spring and fall for three years to achieve the same effects as the powder product.
The Extremely Green Web site explains that the time required for milky spore to become established at the site depends on several conditions, including the maturity of the grubs, the size of the grub population and, most influentially, the temperature of the soil.
The organisms develop most rapidly at temperatures between 60 and 97 degrees. In parts of the country where soil temperatures remain above 70 for several months, a considerable buildup of the disease may occur in one year; in colder parts, it may take three to five years.
When milky spore bacteria become established at the site, they spread naturally into adjoining untreated areas.
Nematodes are another safe solution to pest-control. Nematodes are microscopic roundworms that occur naturally in soil throughout the world. They have bacteria in them that will kill insects -- and they are hungry little critters, so they enter a "bad" insect, destroy it, eat mightily and then move on to another source. Choosing the right nematodes is important, so you need to determine the type of pest you want to control and then match the avenging nematode. They are typically shipped in an easily dissolved clay solution that you mix with water.
I've ordered nematodes from www.arbico-organics.com. We'll be applying two types of nematodes: NemaSeek, which is the species Heterorhabditis bacteriophora that helps control grubs, queen ants and termites, bagworms, fleas, Japanese beetles, June beetles, various tree and vine borers and more; and NemAttack, species Steinernema feltiae, suited to warmer climates against mobile pests like fleas and cutworm. I'll write about the results in a later column. Because the nematodes attack pests from the inside, you won't see dead insects like you see when you use chemical products.
Deer are the bane of my garden (we had 16 of them in the yard recently, including an eight-point buck). I'm looking for solutions, like everyone else, to keep the herd out of my beds. Here are a few organic products I've run across lately.
Not Tonight Deer! is a repellent concentrate (about $12 for 6 ounces, makes 5 gallons of solution and covers 5,000 square feet). The Web site says it contains no chemicals and can be used on food crops and around pets and children. It must be applied every 10 days to two weeks, and it does wash off in the rain. But if you add a few teaspoons of cooking oil to the mix, it will stick a bit better.
Havahart, the company that makes the animal-friendly traps and other products to help keep animals out of the garden, suggests planting deer-resistant plants as the first line of defense (listed below). However, they also offer a product that deters animals and birds from gardens, landscape and yard that is eco-friendly and worth a try.
Havahart "spray-away motion-activated water repellent" chases away animals and birds from gardens, landscape and yard. It works by detecting an animal or bird with infrared sensors. Once detected, the electronic valve releases a three-second burst of water from an attached garden hose. Water spray is broadcast up to 35 feet to protect a 1,000-square-foot area. Adjustable sensitivity detector and random spray pattern prevent animals from growing accustomed to the sprayer.
The animal repellent's unpleasant experience is associated with the location, conditioning the animal to avoid the area. Sprinkler has a 180-degree front sweep with infrared motion detection. The sudden noise, motion and water spray will not harm animals. This eco-friendly training is consistent 24 hours a day, using short bursts of 2 to 3 cups of water per motion activation.
Sounds like this might do the trick.
Here are the plants suggested by Havahart that are "deer-resistant":
Allium, ornamental chives
Asclepias, butterfly weed
Berberis thunbergii, barberry
Buddleia davidii, butterfly bush
Dicentra, bleeding hearts
Echinops, globe thistle