Gardening advice from Canada's pesticide regulator
(NC)—What's the best way to prevent plant disease and pest problems that can damage your home vegetable garden? With more and more Canadians flexing their green thumbs, this has become a frequent question posed to officials at Health Canada's Pest Management Regulatory Agency.
Health Canada regulates pesticides and employs scientists to evaluate potential health and environmental risks both before a product can be marketed and as new scientific information becomes available. The department advises that there are many things gardeners can do to help avoid pest problems, often without the need for pesticides.
Location, Location, Location: Most vegetables need full sun in order to thrive, although some plants such as lettuce, chard, and carrots can tolerate partial shade. Choosing a location with good drainage – a gentle slope is ideal – can reduce the risk of plant disease. If drainage is an issue, use containers or create a raised bed.
Feed the soil: Adding organic matter like compost, mulched leaves and grass clippings provides nutrients to the soil as the matter decays, which are then taken up by nutrient-hungry plants. Plants that are nourished by a well-balanced soil are less susceptible to disease and more likely to withstand insect pests.
Just the right amount of TLC: Many plant problems that might first appear to be signs of disease are actually caused by too little or too much attention. This includes imbalances of water, nutrients, and oxygen in the soil. Since weeds compete for nutrients, regular weeding can improve plant vigour. To discourage plant diseases, try to water the soil rather than the plant leaves, stay out of the garden when it is wet, and avoid damaging plants, since torn leaves and wounds on stems can create entry points for diseases and insects.
Be good to beneficial insects: Beneficial predatory insects, such as ground beetles, ladybugs and yellow jackets usually far outnumber insect pests in a garden. You can attract beneficial insects by adding rocks and other ground cover to provide hiding places, and by providing a water source such as a bird bath. (Change the water regularly to prevent a mosquito breeding ground.) By planting flowering plants that bloom at different times throughout the season, you can also attract many different types of pollinators such as bees and butterflies.
Pest control advice: If insect pests appear to be getting the upper hand, try alternative approaches before considering pesticides. For example, hosing aphids off of an infested tomato plant with a jet of water can be effective at repelling them. Hand picking cucumber beetles off of a cucumber plant and placing them in a pail filled with soapy water can also make a big dent in their numbers, especially if you check regularly and discover them early. If you do decide to use a pesticide, make sure you have correctly identified the pest, confirm that the particular pest you are trying to control is listed on the label, and always carefully read and follow the label directions. When treating fruit or vegetable plants, ensure the label specifies the product can be used on the food crop you are treating.
More information is available online at www.health.gc.ca/pmra, or toll-free at 1-800-267-6315.
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