Inspect plants before you buy them to avoid bringing home insect problems.
"A lot of times people don't notice the insects, because they
blend in, until plants start showing bad signs," she
said. "Inspect the plants before you buy them at a nursery to
make sure you're not bringing home a problem."
Late winter to early spring is a good time to start planning
for insects. Macie suggests applying a horticultural oil to
plants like gardenias and azaleas.
"The oil kind of cleans up the plant of any white flies, pests
and scales, mainly with plants that were infected last year,"
she said. Horticultural oil, also known as summer oil, is a
refined petroleum product that, when applied to shrubs and
fruit trees, smothers insects.
Pests will come. But before opening a bag of insecticide and
dumping it on every bush and bloom in your yard, read the
label. This is critical when you apply chemicals to a vegetable
Macie said some vegetable gardeners "do stuff on weekends and
then call me on Monday to see if it was OK. I had one guy who
had to pull up his whole tomato garden" because of the
chemicals he used.
You can safely treat vegetable plants for insects as long as
the pesticide matches the plant and you put it out early enough
that it won't affect your food.
"The label will list the days-to-harvest," she said. "Assuming
the spray is labeled for that food crop, it's safe to use. But
if your tomatoes are ready to harvest, don't put chemicals on
Macie said many people will put something out and then call her
because they didn't read the label. "If a fruit or vegetable
isn't listed on the label," she said, "I can't say it's safe,
because the insecticide hasn't been approved for that plant."
Two of the most common insect types are aphids and scale
insects. The tiny, sap-sucking aphids feed on everything from
vegetables to trees. They can give plants a speckled, deformed
look. "I see a lot of overfertilized plants that have aphid
problems because they have a lot of new growth," Macie said.
To combat aphids, she said, horticultural oils and pesticides
help, as do beneficial insects like ladybugs.
Scale insects don't move once they've inserted their
mouthparts. "They're usually found in such large numbers that
they become a problem," she said.
Horticultural oils and systemic insecticides work on scale
insects. But contact insecticides don't.
When she's home for the day, one of Macie's favorite ways to
control insects is the hunt-and-snatch method. "I do a lot of
hand-killing," she said.
Besides keeping her plants healthy his way, she said, "A lot of
times they end up in my collection."
When Macie sees an insect she doesn't have, she's not afraid to
make a deal for it. "I've even traded a kid at a gas station in
North Carolina a Snickers bar for a rhino beetle," she said.