It is a busy time in the garden. Lots of growth, lots of weeds, lots of pests and lots for us to do! Depending on your location, planting summer crops can happen any time in the next month. If you are in a cold spot, susceptible to late frosts then wait. If you are in a warm spot with lots of warm sun then maybe you could consider planting tomatoes, peppers, beans and basil in the next couple of weeks. Wendy and I both tend to be conservative on early plantings but people get away with it all the time. The reason I am conservative is I feel when you put plants early they struggle to be healthy and more often have pest problems or just sit in the ground waiting for the soil to warm up.
I really notice the pests in the spring, many are around all year but I think the young plants attract more and the damage is more visible on the new babies. We have talked about pests off and on but I will again go through the list of most common pests in the spring.
Flea Beetles– little black shiny shelled beetles the size of a pinhead. They make little holes all over the leaves. Sometimes it is hard to see them as they jump off the leaves with the least bit of movement, so try observing them without touching the plants. They don’t tend to kill the plant just weaken them and make the leaves look bad. Most plants grow out of the damage and flea beetles are at their worst in spring. The brassicas (kale, broccoli, mustards, arugula) leaves are hit the hardest. The best protection is to cover the plants with a row cover (Reemay or Agribon are two types), they let light and moisture through but keep the fleas beetles off.
Aphids-There are many types of aphids, but they all tend to be very small, live in tight clusters, and tend to be gray or black. Leaves will often curl or become misshapen where they are gathering. They seem to be worst on plants that are at the end of their life though not always. As soon as I notice aphids coming in, I take a hose and spray them off. Most aphids do not fly or move on their own easily, so if you spray them off they often die before they can relocate. You can also spray them with a soap mixture as it will dry them out. Aphids have lots of predators so look for lady beetles, lacewings and syrphid flies. There is a parasitic wasp that really helps control them, look for what looks like dry carcasses- mummies- those have been parasitized. Ants can move them around so controlling ants can help control aphids, especially in trees. Row covers can also prevent them from reaching the plants. Plants are most susceptible when they are young, usually by summer the aphid population has decreased and plants are strong.
Slugs and snails– peak season for slugs and snails is the spring, when there is moisture still and lots of places to hide before the garden has been cleaned up. Again small plants are very susceptible as they can be mowed down. I really believe in Sluggo, and sprinkle it around all new plantings especially if they are near any good slug hiding places. The best thing you can do is not have places for them to hide- pieces of wood laying around, little crevices between raised beds, space between rocks. It is always good to come out on a foggy morning and pick snails and slugs off also. My father also put out little cups of beer nestled into the ground and the slugs crawled in and would drown.
Leaf Miners– I have talked about these before and they have become a real problem for growing chard, spinach and for beet tops. Leaf miners are invisible to the eye but their mining trail through the leaves of chard are very obvious. If you pull the leaf membrane apart you will find a little larvae crawling around between the walls of the leaf. They are very hard to control. A couple of tips are trying to grow the plants that get leaf miners under row cover and also if you look at the back of the leaves you will see clusters of white eggs. If you smash the eggs you can control the population. Pick off all leaves that have been damaged and remove them from the garden. I have heard that Neem oil also helps control the larvae from maturing.
Cabbage Root Maggot– All of the brassica plants(broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and Brussel sprouts , though kale not as much) are susceptible to this little maggot that loves the cool moist soil of spring and burrows into the roots of the plants. If your plants are just growing along and then start to wilt and die, dig up the plant and look at the soil and roots and see if you find whitish little maggots. Some people say that direct seeding often lessens the plant being attractive, others suggest planting larger plants so they can outgrow them. The maggot comes from a fly so covering the plants can protect them from getting to the soil around the plant. Other people make little circles of cardboard and put them around the plants so the maggots cannot not access the soil around the roots. One place I read if you sprinkly diatomaceous earth around the base of the plant the and in the planting hole the maggots don’t like to cross it. If you have Cabbage root maggots it makes growing brassicas hard to grow.
It may seem that everything wants to attack your plants and that you need to keep it all under cover. But most of the pests of spring disappear or are less of a problem once summer comes. So covering the garden in row covers can be just for the early time while plants are small. Another thing to watch for is too much nitrogen, plants pumped up on nitrogen fertilizer tend to be more attractive to many of these pests. Remember that mostly plants grow well and it only should take a little management to help them with these pests.