Before you begin...
My friend and garden assistant, Peggy, tells me that of all the yards she helps tend, mine is the healthiest (although it is not necessarily the tidiest). I credit that health to myriad factors. Every speck of my growing areas (even potted plants) is covered with rich organic matter like aged compost, worm castings, or shredded leaves. I grow a diverse array of plants—bulbs, annuals, perennials, shrubs, and trees—to create a well-integrated yet multifaceted garden that attracts scores of beneficial inhabitants such as insects, lizards, toads, frogs, snakes, and birds. Before adding any plant to my garden, I make sure that it is healthy and thriving and is planted in an area that suits its needs.
On the occasion that I need to treat a plant for a pest or disease problem, I follow these simple guidelines:
• Test homemade sprays on a small portion of the plant before applying it to the entire surface. Monitor the plant’s response for a couple of days to check for burning.
•Add a few drops of liquid soap to homemade foliar sprays. It helps to emulsify, or blend together, the other ingredients. It also acts as a surfactant, or wetting agent, which will ensure uniform coverage on leaf surfaces or insect bodies (causing desiccation and death). Always use soap (never detergent) so as not to burn plants; good choices are Dr. Bronner’s, Fels Naptha, or any pure castile soap, all of which can be found in health-food stores.
•Apply sprays early in the morning and never when the temperature is above 85°F to prevent sunburned leaves.
•Wear rubber gloves when using any sprays containing peppers, alcohol, citrus concentrates, mint oils, or anything else that could irritate your skin. And when spraying outdoors in breezy conditions, wear eye and nose protection.
•Examine your plants thoroughly before apply- ing sprays to make sure that you aren’t spraying any spiders or beetles that might be your allies in the fight against pests.