By now we hope you’ve read through our articles outlining integrated pest management, as well as “Prevention” article (stay tuned for our upcoming our extensive “Knowing Your Enemy” series on particular pests). Maybe at this point you’ve also done everything to prevent a pest population from reaching unacceptable levels but things got out of hand anyway. Fear not, we’ve provided everything you need to know to get things back under control in this next section of our pest patrol series, “Elimination and Restoration”.
Let’s Get Physical:
The first method for removing pests is to well...physically get them off the plant. If you have, say a spider mite infestation, start by, wearing nitrile gloves of course, pruning and carefully disposing of any heavily damaged parts of the plant. There are even biodegradable gloves now, for the conservation conscious (which we all should be). This will help minimize the spread of infection to other plants. If your infestation is fairly small scale, you may also be able to remove mites by carefully sliding the infested leaves that still appear healthy between your gloved fingers, scraping mites off as you go.
This however can be as tedious as it sounds, especially when it comes to large scale infestations. You may instead want to bring in the big guns. Pressurized sprayers, such as the Flowzone Typhoon, for larger gardens, as well as the battery powered Rainmaker for smaller gardens, can be used to dislodge mites and their eggs, knocking them off of plants quickly and effectively. Be sure to really hit the underside of leaves! Depending on the stage your plants are in, sprayers can be filled with a pest treating product or, especially if you're at the end of the growing cycle, plain old H2O. Don’t be fooled into thinking this is a one and done process; most pests are relentless so to keep them away you will want to repeat this process until signs of the infestation have all but disappeared. As a rule of thumb, you want your sprays or other controls to be applied for at least the life cycle of the insect.
What about those pesky creatures hiding in your soil? You can start by creating a sort of bug demolishing “mine field” on top of your soil with diatomaceous earth to keep them from getting in and laying eggs. Though completely safe for humans and animals, this stuff is brutal on insects. It has sharp edges that will cut a critter up as it moves through, damaging the exoskeleton and getting, “under its skin” so to speak. This causes the release and subsequent absorption of the insect’s precious moisture, drying it out… to death. Just be sure to leave about an inch when transplanting to make room for this killer dressing.
Another method for controlling gnats and other flying insects in particular is to place sticky traps around the base of your plant. Sticky traps can be attached to skewers or tomato cages at the base of the plant, where the gnats hang out. Gnats are attracted to yellow so the bright yellow color of these traps will draw them in and keep them forever stuck. Fungus gnats lay hundreds of eggs, so catching one adult means preventing hundreds more from developing your garden. Sticky traps can also give you an idea of just how many gnats you’re dealing with in your grow space. Some gardeners will even use sticky tape around their plants to prevent mites from moving from one plant to another but simply spacing your plants adequately apart from one another is a pretty effective means to preventing pests from spreading.
Physical removal, while effective, definitely requires more of your time and attention. In situations where an infestation is extensive it may seem utterly overwhelming and impossible. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could outsource your problem to someone, or something else? Well, fortunately you can!
Maybe you didn’t quite realize the club med vibes your plants were giving off to these exasperating party arthropods and things have gone wild, real fast. It might be time to hire some muscle to get things back under control. Let’s take a look at some insects and bacteria that will do the job for you.
As will become very clear in our fungus gnat edition of “Know Your Enemy”, fungus gnats in the larval stage are the real culprits when it comes to plant damage. Bacillus thuringiensis subspecies israelensis, or Bti for short, is a naturally occurring, spore-forming bacterium produced by fermentation. Bti spores produce toxins that specifically target and only affect the larvae of the mosquito, blackfly and fungus gnat. As such, it is completely safe for humans, animals or any other non-targeted species. As Bti is ingested by the insect larvae, the toxins it produces damage the digestive system, killing the pest larvae before they get the chance to pupate.
Using Bti allows you to reduce egg and larval populations which disrupts the breeding cycle of fungus gnats and other insects. It is more effective when used in conjunction with sticky traps as this will also limit the number of adults that might start the cycle over. Bti is readily available in Mosquito Bits and is easy to apply to the growing media of your plants; just sprinkle it into the medium and add water. Mosquito Dunks can alternatively be added to a reservoir to treat a gnat problem. As mosquito bits break down, they release Bti allowing this beneficial bacterium to do its larvae killing thing. Keep in mind however, Bti cannot reproduce or persist indoors on its own, so it is important to repeat the application process about every five days to effectively control pest populations in your garden.
Beneficial Nematodes are also an excellent option when it comes to targeting larvae creeping around your soil. The Steinernema feltiae variety in particular is the most effective commercially available species when it comes to treating soil-dwellers. These microscopic roundworms actively search out hosts, i.e. the larvae of hundreds of harmful soil-dwelling pests, penetrating the body of the insect and releasing a bacterium that consumes the pest from the inside out. This will generally lead to death within 24-48 hours. While harsh on their targets, beneficial nematodes are completely safe for your plants, other animals and of course humans.
Because Beneficial Nematodes are living creatures, they should be applied as soon as possible. They can, if necessary, be refrigerated for up to two weeks until you’re ready to put them to work. Nematodes are often applied in the form of a soil drench. Just mix the appropriate amount of water per the distributor's instructions and apply to the soil. Keep in mind that beneficial nematodes are most effective at temperatures between 60° to 90°F (approximately 15° to 32°C) and when conditions are moist. Be sure your soil has sufficient moisture at the time of application and lightly water immediately after application. Regular watering should be sufficient to keep these guys alive from this point on.
To ensure treatment is most effective, nematodes should be applied at least twice in intervals of about 7-10 days. This will stagger their life cycles, providing complete coverage. In cases of severe infestation, application should occur every 7-10 days, until the infestation subsides.
Once populations are established, nematodes can provide long term control by converting host tissue into the nutrition they consume as they multiply. You don’t have to wait for signs of infestation to apply these guys either. Nematodes can be applied as a preventative measure to keep pest levels in your garden under control from the get go!
Stratiolaelaps scimitus or Hypoaspis miles (amazon link) is a predatory mite that lives in the top half inch layer of soil. This mite will definitely eat up fungus gnat larvae, in some cases even spider mite pupae, and might just be your garden’s new best friend. These tiny 0.5mm critters have a life cycle lasting about 7 to 11 days, with the eggs they lay in soil hatching every 1 to 2 days. Nymph and adult mites will feed on gnat larvae and eggs at a rate of about 5 per day. These guys prefer temperatures ranging from 60° to 74°F (about 15° to 23° C) and relatively high humidity. They will however not tolerate standing water. Lucky for you, you’ve already made sure to get rid of standing water as a preventative measure, right?
Hypoaspis miles can be applied to your garden by gently shaking them from their container onto your grow media. Leave the container in the garden for 24 hours to allow the rest crawl out on their own. The applicable amount should be specified by the distributor, based on the size of your garden. Hypoaspis miles mites work best when applied prior to an infestation or when populations are still low. They also work great in conjunction with Bti!
If you’re looking to hire some serious spider mite killers, look no further than Neoseiulus Californicus. These durable mites can be used as a preventative measure against spider mites, in particular, or to cut down an established population. What makes these mites so helpful is their ability to survive in a number of different environmental conditions; they’re not as persnickety when it comes to temperature and humidity as some other predatory mites. The conditions for optimum performance of these mites is between 50 to 110°F (approximately 10 to 40°C) with a relative humidity of between 40-60%, typically requiring higher humidity in higher temperatures. These guys can also go a long time without their prefered food aka harmful mites in your garden, surviving on pollen instead, which is why they can be applied as a preventative measure.
The Neoseiulus Californicus have a slow and steady wins the race, kind of vibe. These guys will eat approximately 5 mites a day, but they will stick around for the long haul. Their typical life cycle takes about a month, with 8 days in the juvenile stage, and 20 days in the adult stage. An adult female can lay about 43 eggs, among the webbing of the pest mite population, which then hatch into hungry larvae. Simply follow the distributors instructions and release rates to get these helpful mites started in your garden. Because these mites do not have as voracious an appetite as some other species, if your garden is heavily infested, you may want to use these guys in conjunction with another critter that will knock the pest population down a little faster.
If your conditions are particularly humid and hot, Phytoseiulus Persimilis or “predator mites” are another killer mite option. These guys have a voracious appetite for Tetranychus urticae, the most common species of spider mite in indoor gardens, eating up to 5 adult spider mites, or 20 eggs a day. The optimal performance conditions of these mites will be between 70° to 85° F (approximately 21° to 30° C). You might want to note that this is around the same temperature spider mites themselves are fond of, the primary difference being predatory mites will require a relatively humid environment, greater than 75%, in order to thrive and reproduce effectively.
In the right conditions, these predator mites will lay their eggs and reproduce on their own, providing effective long-term mite control. The total life cycle of these creatures is about 25 days, with females laying around 60 eggs which hatch every 2-3 days. Like spider mites, they are nearly impossible to see with the naked eye however with a magnifying glass you will notice they are red in color and just slightly larger than their prey.
Phytoseiulus Persimilis can be released by gently shaking them from the container in areas where spider mite populations are abundant. Follow the recommended release rates per the distributor to ensure effective coverage for your garden. Once released into the garden, they will immediately begin to reduce the harmful spider mite population as the nymphs and adults actively hunt down and gobble up spider mites in all stages of life at rapid rates! These mites will not harm humans or animals, only attacking their preferred food source. They will continue this until there’s nothing left to eat, meaning spider mite populations have been eradicated, after which they will move on or starve to death. A sad ending for such helpful creatures but at least we know they’ve fulfilled their purpose.
As we’ve previously established, integrated pest management is all about making sure all treatments used in your garden are compatible and work to create a healthy, sustainable ecosystem. When using biological forms of pest control, the principles of IPM are especially important to consider as certain products used to treat unwanted creatures could also kill the creatures that are helping you out. You must provide the proper conditions, such as temperature and humidity, for these living things to have them work for you most effectively. You don’t want to kill or stunt reproduction of your helpers before they’ve done their job!
In particularly gnarly cases however, if the damage is already heavy, you may not have time to allow populations of these biological pest fighters to reach their full potential. Fortunately, there are a number of organic and natural products to combat an infestation immediately.
Drench or Spray to Keep the Bugs Away:
Depending on the type of pest you’re trying to target, you may want to want to use different methods to apply particular products. Typically treating pests will involve either a soil drench or spraying the plant thoroughly.
The soil drench process consists of diluting a product in water and applying this solution to the base of a plant. This method is typically used to treat soil dwelling problems, i.e. unwanted insects and pathogens but also as a means to apply nutrients. Many products used in a soil drench work to both prevent or treat an ongoing infestation. Soil drenches do however take some time to work as the chemicals need time to be absorbed by the roots and spread to the stems, branches and leaves. As such, this method is best used early in the growing cycle and when the plant is well hydrated. Be sure to follow the product manufacturer’s instructions regarding the proper product to water ratio and the best time to apply. If pest populations are high, you may need to repeatedly apply a soil drench for it to be as effective as possible.
Sprays on the other hand can more quickly target the pest you want to eliminate. Sprays can be used to spot treat infected areas or to thoroughly coat your garden. Some sprays come in a ready to use form while others must be applied with a pressurized sprayer or an atomized fogger such as Micro Fog which comes in both stainless steel and carbon fiber options. Apply your chosen product following the product manufacturer's instructions and be sure to pay close attention to whether the product must be diluted with water. It is also crucial that you apply most products via the spray method during the night cycle to avoid burning your foliage.
Below you’ll find a list of the products we recommend to treat a number of different common and not so common pests, that are typically applied via either a spray or drench method, or both!
Neem Oil is pressed from the seeds of the neem tree, Azadirachta indica. Neem oil is safe for humans and animals as its insecticidal properties target only specific pests. Said insecticidal properties stem from azadirachtin, which acts as a pest repellent and also disrupts insect hormone systems, making it harder for insects to grow and lay eggs. Further, the residue left by neem oil will smother eggs, which prevents larvae from emerging and developing. We recommend Monterey Neem Oil as it is conveniently ready to use.
AzaMax does what neem oil can do and then some. It contains a high concentration of azadirachtin, the key insecticidal ingredient found in neem. It too is safe for almost anything other than pests themselves. AzaMax is OMRI listed and can be applied as a root drench to fight gnats, or a foliar spray to target spider mites, per manufacturer's instructions. Like neem oil, AzaMax also leaves a residue that can smother pest eggs, keeping the larvae from emerging.
PureCrop1 is an amazing product all around but particularly for treating pests. Not only does it take sap suckers down, it is specially formulated to reduce plant stress, improving your plants resistance to pests and diseases as well as your plants overall health. PureCrop1 works by dissolving the membrane that composes the bodies of harmful insects and interfering with the digestive enzymes that process their food. Sap sucking insects have different digestive enzymes than predatory insects so PureCrop1 does not harm the membrane or enzymes of your helper bugs which means it can be used in conjunction with these guys. This highly effective product can be used as either a root drench or spray, following manufacturer's instructions, to make unwanted bugs go away!
Plant Therapy by Lost Coast is another product that is safe for humans and animals but tough on pests. This spray will adhere to targeted soft bodied insects, i.e. spider mites and gnats, and their egg cases and larvae. The active ingredients disrupt respiration and digestion and penetrate the exocuticle to dehydrate the entire body, on contact. Best of all, because it is impossible to develop an immunity to suffocation or dehydration, insects can never become immune to this product! Just be sure to really saturate your plants so Plant Therapy can work its insect killing magic. You can rest assured, while this product is quick to dry and won’t hinder plant development, it’ll knock these bugs out.
Trifecta is safe, non-toxic, pest and fungal control that uses the power of colloidal micelles to keep your plants happy and healthy. Trifecta Crop Control is made with a water soluble blend of essential oils coupled with a nano-emulsifier made from saponified food grade base oils. While, these oils boost the plant’s immune system and growth cycle, they also rapidly break down and disappear completely, meaning no stoma cloggage. Trifecta is effective across all stages of the growth cycle, simply mix it with water per manufacturer's instructions and put it to work!
Nuke Em by Flying Skull is another organic, safe product that’s name says it all when it comes to pest control. It kills the eggs, larvae, juvenile and adult stages of a number of unwanted insects and arachnids as well as mold, mildew and other harmful pathogens. Though Nuke Em is a highly concentrated formula, meaning a little goes a long way, it does not have a high concentration of oils, often found in other pesticides which means it won’t leave stoma clogging residue that might otherwise hinder photosynthesis. Just follow the manufacturer's instructions to mix into either a spray or root drench and you’ve got some serious pest control on your hands.
When dealing with a pest that reproduces and moves through its life cycle at an exponential rate, such as spider mites, it is beyond important to repeat the spray process regularly, paying special attention to the underside of the leaves where these guys hangout. Spider mites in particular are incredibly adaptive and resistant to treatment, which means as you use a particular product these mites become more and more resistant to said product. We went over this in our IPM article but as a refresher, this is because the mites that did not succumb to the first treatment, due to their advantageous genetics, are still around to reproduce. They alone will provide the genetic basis of the next generation, which will contain the same and other genetic resistance of their parents; this, friends, is natural selection in progress. With new generations emerging every 3 to 4 days, cycling between different products and methods can more effectively eliminate numerous generations. A particular genetic structure is much less likely to prove resistant to a variety of products, giving you the advantage instead.
Certain products such as PureCrop1, Plant Therapy and Trifecta are gentle enough to be applied daily, while others should be applied about every 3 days as new generations emerge. In fact, these three products are safe to use up to the day of harvest! Any products applied via the spray method should be repeated for at least two weeks until the infestation subsides and then applied again at least one more time, even if you think they’re gone.
If All Else Fails, Drop the Bomb:
The principles of IPM state that harsher pesticides should only be used as a last resort. Hopefully one or a combination of the above methods will prove successful for you, but if not, there’s one more option: Pyrethrins. Pyrethrins can be applied in the form of a spray for spot treating or a bomb for well, bugaggedon. While some pyrethrins are synthetic, you’re going to want to steer clear of these as they are generally much more toxic to humans and animals and not safe for consumable crops. Naturally occurring Pyrethrins are derived from chrysanthemum flowers and can be used in indoor gardens for heavy infestations where all other treatment has proven ineffective.
Pyrethrins essentially are a deadly nerve agent for bugs; when insects eat or come into contact with these chemicals, said chemicals bind to the sodium channels responsible for nerve signal transmission, causing hyperexcitation of the nerve cells, which then leads to loss of function, a complete shutdown of the nervous system and in most cases, death. Adaptive resistance is still a factor however, so multiple uses are necessary to combat an infestation; this will typically require 3 to 4 treatments, spaced 3 to 5 days apart. Pyrethrins will not target only unwanted insects but will wipe out most other living arthropods in your garden, so keep this in mind.
For spot treating, OMRI certified Pyganic can be used, per manufacturer’s instructions, especially to treat fungus gnats by spraying the top layer of soil thoroughly. The aptly named Doktor Doom, makes total release pyrethrin foggers, derived from chrysanthemums, making them a viable option for your garden, if all else fails. There’s even a Doktor Doom fogger specifically formulated for spider mites. Just be sure to wear a mask when setting these foggers off and leave the room immediately, not entering again until the chemicals have dissipated.
With the last resort now explained we have finally reached our last section: how to keep infestations away after treatment and bring your plants back to their full glory.
Just When I Think I’m Out, They Pull Me Back In:
In case you haven’t internalized the message yet, when treating pests with sprays, root applications or foggers, you must, must repeat the process until you’re sure they’re gone, and then again to be absolutely positively certain! You know how the doctor always tells you to take your antibiotics until they’re gone, even if the infection seems to have completely cleared up? Well the same principles apply here, for if you don’t, there’s a good chance things will come back even worse. Even if you think you’re absolutely positive every last insect is gone, and you’ve danced upon their tiny graves, you’re work is not yet complete.
In order to really keep the bugs away and get your plants back to their most excellent form, you must go from treatment immediately to prevention. This means applying the tools and tips you’ve learned throughout this, as well as the IPM and Prevention articles. Be vigilant, meticulous, spotlessly tidy and persistent. Persistence is, after all, in pretty much anything we do, the key to success. We believe in you. We’re sure that after making it through a hellish infestation, you’ll probably have developed an impressive IPM strategy to avoid repeating the same struggle. And this strategy will begin with a thorough and intensive cleaning of everything in your grow room once your current grow cycle is complete, right?
But let’s focus on plants that have just recently overcome an infestation, what can we do to get them back on track?
When it comes to conquering a pest problem, momentum is an important thing to keep in mind. Momentum is hard to gain and easy to lose. Momentum is built as plants grow but pests slow this process down because the plant’s energy is diverted from growth to defense. Once you’ve got a pest problem under control, your plants are going to need a boost to get their momentum started in the right direction again, toward repair and growth. The fastest way to get plants back on track is to give them a shot of hormones and the roots are a good place to start, especially if you’re plants are recovering an infestation that has lead to root damage.
Because insect damage to roots almost always leads to some form of root rot, it is important to treat your plants with a root zone disease prevention product, like Mycorrhizae or Great White to combat this. Healthy roots will also help combat more issues than just pest damage. Ideally these products would be applied at the beginning stages of growth because they are so beneficial to plant health, which of course means they function as an excellent preventative measure. Mycorrhizae has a symbiotic relationship with plant roots; it grows off of the roots into the parts roots are just too large to reach. These tiny offshoots then store water, keeping your plants well hydrated as opposed to water stressed. Great White contains both mycorrhizae and another fungus called trichoderma, which actively attacks root rot fungi. Better still, these beneficial additives work in pretty much all conditions and grow media.
Giving your plant a shot of a root enhancer like Rapid Start or Super Thrive will also lead to new impetus after an infestation. These auxin containing products help restore your plants’ root zones, lower stress and aid healthy development. Maxicrop & Zeus Juice are two kelp containing products that are naturally high in hormones. Kelp is pretty incredible; it's the world's original hydroponic crop! Kelp exists in state in which it has unlimited access to all the resources required for photosynthesis. It's in the ocean with access to all the water it could ever need, its habitat is also absent of shade meaning all day sun, and it rests against surface which provides all the Co2 it could want. Sharing this incredible plant's goodness with your crops can bring them back to their pre-infestation glory, leading to incredible yields!
Speaking of incredible yields, we here at Monster Gardens we hope that you’ve been able to find the information you were looking for when it comes to understanding, preventing and treating for pests from our pest prevention series thus far. Our goal is to provide you with the best, most accurate information, tips and tools needed for a healthy thriving garden. Be sure to stay tuned for new episodes of our “Knowing your Enemy” article series!
Written by: Jorie Lott