Common-Sense Pest Management Ideas You Can Use
THESE PARAGRAPHS ARE NOT ABOUT which remedy to use for various pests and diseases. Those decisions depend on many factors, including your orchid-growing situation, the area of the country in which you live and your level of acceptance for potentially toxic chemicals. What you may gain from this read is a strategy for managing pest problems and a sensible plan of attack when they occur.
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” when it comes to plant pest management, and there are several techniques you should employ to head off problems before they become serious.
Start by always purchasing healthy orchids and carefully examine all new plants coming to your collection for potential problems. While it is rec-ommended to isolate new purchases from the rest of your collection, in truth it is often not practical. At the very least, try to keep a watchful eye on the newest orchids in your collection for signs of problems. I try to repot new acquisitions as soon as possible in order to thoroughly examine the plant and its root system.
Regular and thorough inspections of your orchid plants are a must. For some growers, a check once each week is sufficient; others may examine their plants two or three times during that period. A thorough inspection includes gently poking into the crowns of orchids with monopodial growth habit as well as looking at the underside of every leaf and the inside and backside of every flower. Sympodial orchids often have sheaths about their pseudobulbs that frequently provide cover for scale insects or other pests. It is usually best to peel these away after they become brown and papery to eliminate that possibility.
Be sure to reach for those orchids on the far side of the bench or shelf and give them a careful look and a turn as well. You will be surprised how often a plant that appears healthy from one vantage point can harbor a thriving colony of pests on the side facing the greenhouse wall.
VALUE OF SPACE Although you may find this statement laughable, it is undeniable that overcrowded plants are a boon to pests and disease, and orchid growers seem particularly prone to this bad habit. Not only are crowded plants more difficult to inspect and care for, their proximity also provides natural bridges so the critters can stroll from plant to plant with ease. Try to give each plant its own space or at least arrange them so that leaves do not touch. Also, avoid hanging plants above each other as much as possible. You do not need to let the force of gravity lend a hand in moving bugs among your plants.
Realize that the occurrence of pests is inevitable and do not panic when outbreaks are found. Keep in mind that those pests have to make a living too, and they are just doing what comes naturally. Consider what level of pest infestation is tolerable to you. One or two small problems do not necessarily justify treating an entire collection.
IDENTIFICATION When pest and disease problems arise, the first key to solving them is to correctly identify them. You are wasting your time and money on treatments if the problem is misdiagnosed. Check reference books and ask friends or local experts if you are uncertain. Once they are identified, you can choose a plan of treatment. There are usually several alternatives available that range from doing little or nothing to treatment with natural or biological controls to attacking with an arsenal of chemicals.
I think that many of us who were raised in the decades of “better living through chemistry” may be too quick to reach for a spray bottle or aerosol can. We were conditioned to believe that pest control was literally at our fingertips. I gardened that way for years and now shudder when I recall a greenhouse job or two during my college years where I donned a protective garment worthy of an astronaut to apply fogs of deadly pesticides. It was a decade or two before I realized that a mealy bug or aphid could be crushed between the thumb and forefinger just as easily as it could be gassed to death.
Many small infestations of pests may simply be washed away with a spray of water from a high-pressure nozzle. Sometimes you can eliminate an outbreak by removing a few affected leaves or flowers from the plant. When a pest or disease problem is severe, you should consider the cost of treatment versus that of replacing the plant. Even when treatment is easy and assured, consider how long it will take a badly infested plant to recover. Certainly, too, there are those cases where regardless of a plant’s real or sentimental value, it is wiser to dispose of it than risk infecting the rest of your collection.
CHEMICALS When you do resort to chemicals, be sure to read and follow all directions carefully. Many pesticides require repeated applications at prescribed intervals to successfully control subsequent generations. Failure to repeat those applications is a frequent reason for re-infestation. It is also important to switch pesticides if you use them regularly, as insects can build up immunity to repeated doses of the same product.
This is a good reason to treat pest problems only as they occur. If you are in the habit of spraying your plants with chemicals all the time, it can be pretty hard to know where to turn when the tried-and-true formula stops working.
Finally, it is important to realize that weak, stressed plants are magnets for insects and disease. I have always found this a bit of a paradox because it seems to me that the healthiest plants should hold the greatest appeal. Perhaps it is nature’s way of helping to eliminate the weak. In any case, the very best way to avoid insect and disease problems is to work hard at growing the healthiest orchids you possibly can.