Alaska garden pests come in many varieties

Posted: Friday, July 14, 2000

They are lurking in the gardens, feasting on delectable plants which otherwise would be headed for the dinner table. They are the common pests that invade gardens, but, fortunately, the havoc they wreak is preventable.

Janice Chumley, integrated pest management technician for the Alaska Cooperative Extension Service, said these pests are in outside vegetable gardens, but growers have many options open to them to keep gardens creature-free.

The first pest that can attack in growing season is the cutworm, a small, brown species of caterpillar that becomes a moth later in its life. These pests are generally recognized by how they curl into a C-shape when disturbed.

The pests live in the soil and will feed during the night on small seedlings and transplants, mowing them down, Chumley said.

The pests' presence is detected when the leaves are mostly eaten or plants fall over.

Another pest that attacks the plant in the soil is the root maggot. The root maggot hatches from small white eggs laid underneath the soil line, she said. The larva of the pests will eat the roots of the plant so that water and needed nutrients cannot be absorbed, resulting in wilting.

"Basically they stop the plant's growth," she said.

These pests love all brassicas, including cabbage, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, broccoli, radishes and turnips.

Those noticing wilting plants can pull the plant from the ground and view the tiny worms.

Slugs are pests that strike the garden later in the season.

The creature, a part of the mollusk family, will show up when the rain is more prevalent and eat large holes in the plant's leaves.

Aside from the holes, slugs can be detected by the trails of slime around vegetable plants.

"That's how you can tell they are there, the slime trails," Chumley said.

These pests are annoying, but with proper precaution, they can be removed from the growing area.

The eggs of these pests stay in the ground during the winter.

"That's why we keep having them year after year," Chumley said.

Chumley said rototilling the garden in the fall after harvesting, which exposes the eggs to the elements, is a good way to control them.

She also recommends keeping the garden area weed free, as well as cleaning up all debris from the harvest.

During growing season, if pests are detected, Chumley offers different ways to remove them from a garden.

The first option is pick the creatures off. This option is time consuming but is effective.

"(It's) a good way to keep down the population," she said.

Another option is collaring plants. Collars, placed around the base of the plant, act as barriers to the flies that lay the maggot larva and the cutworms. This option also is labor intensive, and is not 100 percent effective, she said, but it works often.

The root maggots can be biologically killed by microscopic organisms called predatory nematodes.

The organisms are harmless to earthworms but does need to be reapplied every year.

Baiting slugs also takes time but is an effective choice, Chumley said.

Slugs are baited by beer or citrus rinds.

When using beer, place a small liquid filled container, mostly covered, near the soil level. The slugs will fall into the container and drown.

The beer in the container needs to be changed daily for best results. she said.

Citrus rinds, laid upside-down, will attract the slugs so they can be removed from the garden.

Physical barriers will keep slugs from entering the garden all together.

Copper tubing, placed around the garden, produces an electromagnet charge that the slugs find unpleasant, she said, so they avoid it.

Wood ash also is useful because the slugs do not like to crawl over scratchy material, but the substance needs to be reapplied often during rainy weather.

The last option is chemical control items that can be purchased at most nurseries and stores.

Chumley warned that when using the chemical pest controls to read all labels carefully, because not all chemicals are safe for humans and animals.

"The labels are the laws. They are for your safety," she said.

Chumley said she also has many handouts at her office at 43691 Kalifornsky Beach Road, in the Doors and Windows building. For extreme pest problems, Chumley is available for site visits.

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