Insects, cotton and peach trees

Published 11:00 pm Saturday, May 12, 2018

I claim there are two plants to grow if, for some sick reason, a person just wants to see how many different insect and disease pests he or she can attract.  The two are cotton and peach trees. 

It seems nearly every insect order and fungal genus finds their way to both when grown in central Mississippi. 

Big strides have been made in dealing with cotton pests in recent decades.   

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A successful, coordinated program got rid of boll weevils. 

Genetic engineering gave us cotton that both makes its own organic insecticide and tolerates herbicides that cut way down on the amount needed. 

Cotton has gone from using about 23 pounds of pesticide per acre per year in the 1990s to about four pounds now.  With the exception of the weevil, cotton pests still come. But holding down their damage no longer has cotton way up there in pesticide use. 

As for peaches, inherent pest problems are why few gardeners who try to raise the fruit stick with it after a few years.  It’s not the pruning; that’s just a few hours work in cool weather.  It’s the worms inside, the aphids and stinkbugs outside, the brown rot on the fruit, the bacterial spot on the leaves and the borers in the trunk. 

And don’t get me started about the squirrels.

I mention these two plants to make a couple of points about pests. With most insect, disease and weed pests, we can be diligent enough and knowledgeable enough to wait until the problem arises before taking action. Sooner or later, weeds have to be dealt with; sooner with a ground barrier or later with a hoe. 

Even though tomato plants are normally targets of several kinds of pests, a daily or nearly so check lets us know if and when to do something about bugs or Alternaria blight. 

Veteran gardeners know from experience which pests to be on the lookout for when on which plant species. They also know which plants to avoid altogether to avoid those pests.   

Neophytes can study, ask someone who knows or eventually learn the hard way like most of us have.

There are a few plant pests that need preemptive measures to keep them from doing major damage. It might be as simple as an aluminum foil stem wrap around new tomato plants to keep away cutworms or southern stem blight. 

Many pests needing control action before they are seen are ones that show up every year and waiting until they are visible is too late. 

I have three plant species I treat early on, before the pests arrive. I use a soil systemic insecticide to protect a small grouping of canna lilies from unseen caterpillars, a fungicide spray on roses because the black spot fungus is an absolute and I spray peaches on a schedule because adult curculios are never seen but lay their worm eggs on tiny peaches also every year.

As for the peach squirrels, did that proposed spring squirrel hunting season ever become law?

Terry Rector is spokesman for the Warren County Soil and Water Conservation District.