Ready, Set, Grow: It’s OK to prune trees, but have a plan in mind _lowres

Andre' Brock, West Feliciana Parish assistant county agent

While we don’t have four proper seasons in Louisiana, it’s hard to deny fall is here. Longer, cooler nights generally slow our plants’ growth and their need for water. So human nature often leads us to pay less attention to our gardens at this time of year. But just like when cooking a roux, you should never turn your back on insects. They can cause major problems both inside and outside your home.

For those in the garden, the most common culprits are caterpillars. Many different types exist, but damage is identifiable. It begins with small holes or with chewing damage near leaf edges. They most frequently attack crops this time of year — broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage. To tell insect damage from mammal (deer, rabbit), try to see if vegetation has been taken off in large chunks or in little nibbles. Insects take the little bites. Also, caterpillars usually will leave the midrib of the leaf, while mammals will usually eat it.

If you do have caterpillars, you can kill them with Bacillus thuringiensis, a bacteria that is toxic to them. It’s harmless to other creatures (such as humans) and is approved as organic. Thuricide is the most common brand name, but similar-sounding others exist. If the caterpillars get too big, it’s less effective. You may want to turn to carbaryl (Sevin) in that case.

Insects are cold-blooded and will seek shelter from cold weather. Especially in the first few cold or cool snaps, some species will make every effort to get into your house. It’s best to take a multifaceted approach in keeping them out. Integrated pest management is a fancy way of describing a common-sense plan that does not rely solely on insecticides, and it’s much more effective. (An IPM approach also can be used for rodents, plant diseases, etc.)

First, be sure your house is as well-sealed as reasonably possible. Some prevention in the way of caulk, door seals, etc. is a cheap and easy investment. This will give you a long-term solution against an array of problems. Remember that many insects come in the flat and flatter varieties, so they can squeeze through tiny spaces.

Next, be sure you don’t provide a habitat for insects that do manage to get in. Flies, for instance, can whiz right past you when you open a door. They can live on the tiniest food scraps, so be sure not to give them any. Any open container is an invite, and remember, unsealed trash cans are like the Country Kitchen buffet to them if they contain anything organic.

Probably your last plan of defense is insecticidal (chemical) control. Doorways and behind appliances or furniture are usually good places to apply. They’re well-traveled by insects and are usually out of reach of children and pets.

A number of chemical options for homes exist, and the label will explain how to use them. The most convenient ones are often sold in aerosol cans, ready to use. Per application, they are usually the most expensive. If you prefer, you can buy concentrate and mix it yourself. Pyrethroids (cypermethrin, permethrin, deltamethrin, etc.) work well and last a long time, especially indoors. Borate tablets are effective against some species and have low toxicity. Always read the label to know how to apply and where it’s safe to do so.

Contact West Feliciana Associate County Agent André Brock at abrock@agcenter.lsu.edu, or call (225) 635-3614.

Visit LSU Ag Center’s website at www.lsuagcenter.com .