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Understanding Diatomaceous Earth: A Natural Pest Control Solution

Diatomaceous earth (DE) has gained popularity as a natural and effective solution for pest control in gardens and homes. DE is derived from the fossilised remains of diatoms, microscopic aquatic organisms. It’s a chalk-like powder that can deter and eliminate a wide range of pests without the use of harmful chemicals. Below, we’ll discuss the intricacies of diatomaceous earth, explore its applications, discuss its effectiveness against different pests, address safety concerns, and provide tips on how to use it for optimal results.

What is Diatomaceous Earth?

Diatomaceous earth is a sedimentary rock that is composed of the fossilised remains of diatoms, which are ancient, single-celled algae. These diatoms have hard, silica-based shells, making them ideal for creating a natural insecticide. DE comes in various grades, but for gardening and pest control purposes, it is best to use food-grade DE, which is safe for humans, pets, and the environment.

How Does Diatomaceous Earth Work as a Pest Control Agent?

The unique structure of DE makes it an effective pest control agent and when pests come into contact with DE, the microscopic, sharp edges of the silica particles penetrate their exoskeletons, causing dehydration and eventual death. The abrasive nature of DE also damages the respiratory systems of insects, further contributing to their demise. This mechanism of action makes diatomaceous earth an excellent solution for controlling pests with exoskeletons. Those are mainly ants, beetles, fleas, cockroaches, and bed bugs. However, it is also effective at stopping slugs in their path.

The Effectiveness of Diatomaceous Earth Against Different Pests

Diatomaceous earth is a versatile pest control solution that can effectively target a wide range of insects. Here’s a breakdown of its effectiveness against common pests:

Aphids and Caterpillars

While diatomaceous earth may not directly kill aphids and caterpillars, it can act as a deterrent due to its abrasive nature. By creating a barrier of DE around plants, you can discourage these pests from infesting your garden.

Slugs and Snails

Slugs and snails dislike crawling over diatomaceous earth due to its sharp particles. Sprinkling DE around vulnerable plants or creating a ring of DE can help protect your garden from these slimy pests.

Fleas and Bed Bugs

Diatomaceous earth is highly effective against fleas and bed bugs. Its abrasive properties penetrate their exoskeletons, leading to dehydration and death. Apply DE around pet bedding or infested areas to eliminate these pesky parasites.

Ants and Roaches

Ants and roaches are no match for diatomaceous earth. By creating a barrier of DE around entry points and infested areas, you can deter these insects and prevent them from reaching your home or garden.

Other Insects

DE can also target mites, millipedes, earwigs, silverfish, crickets, and other insects with exoskeletons. Its ability to dehydrate and damage their protective layers makes it an effective natural pesticide.

Sap sucking Scale insect on a plum fruit tree branch closeup.

It is important to note that it is not effective against all pests. For instance, it may not be as effective against caterpillars with thick mucus layers or earthworms, which have adaptations that protect them from its abrasive effects.

Using Diatomaceous Earth Safely and Effectively

While diatomaceous earth is generally safe, it is crucial to take precautions to ensure its proper and safe use. Here are some guidelines for using DE effectively and without causing harm:

Choosing the Right Type of Diatomaceous Earth

When purchasing diatomaceous earth, opt for food-grade DE, as it is the safest option for use in gardens, homes, and around pets. Avoid using DE intended for pool filtration, as it may contain higher concentrations of silica and other impurities that can be harmful to humans and animals.

Applying Diatomaceous Earth

To use DE as a part of your pest control arsenal, follow these steps:

  1. Identify any Problem Areas: Find out where the insects are likely to infest or present themselves. Look for signs around entry points, crevices, or areas around plants.
  2. Create a Barrier: Sprinkle a thin, even layer of diatomaceous earth around the affected areas. Ensure that there are no gaps in the barrier that pests can easily pass through.
  3. Dusting Leaves (Optional): If pests are damaging the leaves of your plants, you can lightly dust them with diatomaceous earth. However, avoid applying DE directly to flowers to protect pollinators. Use an applicator for more accuracy and to keep your other tools free from the substance.
  4. Reapplication: Diatomaceous earth loses its effectiveness when wet, so it is important to reapply after rainfall or heavy dew. Regular reapplication ensures continuous pest control.

Safety Precautions

While diatomaceous earth is generally safe, it is important to take precautions to avoid inhaling the fine particles. When applying DE, wear a dust mask and eye protection to prevent irritation. Avoid creating airborne clouds of DE and keep it away from high-traffic areas to minimize the risk of inhalation.

Diatomaceous Earth Products

Additional Uses and Benefits of Diatomaceous Earth

DE offers several additional benefits beyond pest control. Here are some ways you can make the most of this natural substance:

Soil Improvement

DE can improve soil structure and drainage. Its porous nature allows it to absorb excess moisture, reducing waterlogging and promoting healthy root growth. Incorporate DE into your garden soil by mixing it in the top few inches or adding it to your compost pile.

Silica Source for Plants

DE is a valuable source of silica, an essential nutrient for plants. Silica contributes to stronger cell walls, improved drought resistance, and increased overall plant health and through using diatomaceous earth in your garden, your plants are going to benefit from the extra source of this mineral.

Livestock and Poultry Health

Diatomaceous earth is commonly added to livestock feed as a natural dewormer. It can help control internal parasites in animals, promoting their overall health and well-being. Additionally, DE can be used in poultry environments to combat mites and lice.

Environmentally Friendly

It is a natural pest control and it poses minimal risk to the local environment. It doesn’t cause harm to the soil, nor to any local water sources, birds, or other wildlife, and when used responsibly, DE can be a sustainable and eco-friendly pest control solution. One of the only drawbacks is that it is not as targeted as some biological pest controls.

Conclusion

Diatomaceous earth is a versatile and effective natural pest control solution. Derived from fossilised diatoms, it works by dehydrating and damaging the exoskeletons of insects, leading to their demise. DE can target a wide range of pests, but it is important to use it selectively and with caution to avoid harming beneficial insects and pollinators. By following proper application techniques and safety precautions, you can harness the power of diatomaceous earth to protect your garden and home from unwanted pests while promoting a safe and environmentally friendly environment.

Carnivorous Plants as Natural Pest Control

The unique ability of Carnivorous Plants to trap and consume insects has interested countless people over the years. Their amazing evolutionary abilities are not only fascinating to learn about but they can also serve a purpose as part of your biological pest control army. In this guide, we’ll quickly look at the different types of Carnivorous Plants, their adaptations, and how you can use them as natural pest control.

What are Carnivorous Plants and How Do They Work?

This group of plants stand out from the rest of the plant world due to their abilities to trap and consume prey. Their prey primarily consists of insects and other small invertebrates. They have evolved into killer plants due to their natural habitats lacking the essential nutrients in the soil to keep them alive. They instead get the nutrients they need from the insects that they are able to consume.

Each species of Carnivorous Plant is very different, so the range of insects they consume will vary. From tiny insects to bigger ones such as Wasps each plant can handle different prey. They have evolved specific mechanisms and structures to aid in capturing their prey effectively. Each species has its own specialised trapping method.

The Role of Carnivorous Plants in Pest Control

In their natural habitat Carnivorous Plants thrive on pests such as mosquitoes, gnats and other nuisance insects. They are part of a balanced ecosystem in the wild where they compete with birds, mammals, amphibians, reptiles and other insects for their prey. When introduced to homes and gardens they can serve as natural pest control which will reduce the need to take other actions and reduce the need for pesticide, whether organic or not.

If you choose the location wisely you can effectively control the populations of pests with this natural method. Carnivorous plants are most effective at catching flying insects, such as gnats, various flies, amongst many other species. Pests are lured by the plants’ enticing nectar, they become trapped and eventually consumed, helping to keep your living spaces bug-free.

Let’s explore some of the most popular species and learn about their unique features and trapping mechanisms.

Venus Flytrap (Dionaea muscipula)

The Venus Flytrap is perhaps the most iconic carnivorous plant, known for its remarkable ability to trap and consume insects. Its specialized leaves, equipped with trigger hairs, act as sensitive receptors that respond to the touch of prey. When a fly or other small insect lands on these hairs, the plant’s trap snaps shut, ensnaring the unsuspecting victim. The trapped insect is then digested by the plant, providing it with vital nutrients.

A Venus Flytrap catches a fly that wanders into its trap

Pitcher Plants (Sarracenia)

Pitcher plants are another fascinating carnivorous plant species commonly used for pest control. These plants possess modified leaves that form tube-like structures known as pitchers. The pitchers are filled with a combination of digestive enzymes and liquid, enticing insects to explore their depths. Once inside, the slippery walls of the pitcher make it difficult for insects to escape, leading to their eventual demise and digestion by the plant.

Pitcher plants (Sarracenia)

Monkey Cups (Nepenthes)

Monkey Cups, or Tropical Pitcher Plants, feature pitchers that grow out from the main plant on stems. The pitchers hang down around the plant making them suited to being grown in hanging baskets. The pitchers contain a viscous fluid that the plant produces which is used to trap, drown and digest insects.

Monkey Cup plant or Tropical Pitcher plant (Nepenthes)

Sundews (Drosera)

Sundews are carnivorous plants characterized by their sticky, glandular hairs that cover their leaves. These hairs secrete a sticky substance that traps insects upon contact. As the struggling insect becomes more entangled, the sundew’s leaves gradually curl inward, ensnaring the prey further. The plant then releases digestive enzymes that break down the insect, allowing the sundew to absorb the nutrients released.

Sundew (Drosera)

Cobra Plant  (Darlingtonia californica)

Cobra plants are native to North America, their name comes from the shape of the leaves which resembles a hooded snake standing tall. The leaves have a small opening at the top which leads to the digestive chamber. Sweet nectar is what attracts insects to the plant along with brighter colours. The insect then gets trapped and is eventually digested by the plant’s natural enzymes.

Cultivating Carnivorous Plants for Pest Control

Choosing the Right Location

Carnivorous plants have specific environmental requirements to thrive. While some species prefer sunny conditions, others thrive in partial shade. Research the specific needs of the carnivorous plants you intend to cultivate to ensure they receive the appropriate amount of light. Additionally, consider the humidity levels and temperature range preferred by your chosen plants, as these factors can significantly impact their growth and overall health.

Providing the Right Growing Medium

Carnivorous plants are usually found in swamps in the wild, where the soil is lacking in nutrients due to the wet environment washing away a lot of the nutrients. In order to replicate these conditions you should use special low-nutrient-content potting soils developed specially for Carnivorous plants. These often include sphagnum moss, perlite and sand which mimics the soil from their natural environment. 

Watering and Feeding Considerations

Carnivorous plants have unique water and feeding requirements. It is important to try and solely use rainwater when watering Carnivorous plants. Tap water contains minerals and chemicals that can harm these sensitive plants. They also thrive in soil that is constantly moist.

While these plants acquire their nutrients through trapping and consuming prey, it is unnecessary to feed them directly. They will naturally attract and capture insects in their environment. However, if you choose to supplement their diet with additional prey, be cautious not to overfeed, as this can disrupt the balance of the plant’s ecosystem.

Winter Dormancy

Many carnivorous plants, particularly those that are native to temperate regions, require a period of winter dormancy to maintain their health and longevity. During this dormancy period, the plants enter a state of rest, reducing their metabolic activity. It is crucial to provide the necessary conditions for their dormancy, including a cool temperature range and reduced watering. Failure to provide the appropriate dormancy period may result in the decline or death of the plant.

Maintaining a Balanced Ecosystem

Introducing carnivorous plants into your garden or home can create a balanced ecosystem by providing a natural predator for pest insects. Carnivorous plants alone may not completely eliminate all pests, so you can add them as part of your arsenal against pests in your greenhouse or home. They act most effectively as a part of an integrated pest management strategy, working in conjunction with other pest control methods to ensure the health and harmony of your living spaces.

Conclusion

Carnivorous plants offer a fascinating and effective solution for natural pest control. By harnessing their unique adaptations and understanding their specific requirements, you can cultivate these remarkable plants to help keep pesky insects at bay. Whether you choose the iconic Venus Flytrap, the alluring Pitcher Plants, the captivating Sundews, or the underwater wonders of Bladderworts, incorporating carnivorous plants into your pest management strategy can provide a sustainable and environmentally friendly solution. So embrace the wonders of nature’s own pesticide and embark on your carnivorous plant journey today!

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Codling and Plum Moth Control

The Solution: Pheromone Traps

A lure containing a sex attractant (pheromone) given off by the female moth attracts male moths to their death in the pheromone trap. Without male moths there will be no maggots.

In mid-May, one trap should be put out for every three apple or plum trees. 

The codling moth and plum moth pheromone lures are specific to these moths and do not attract beneficial insects or bees.

Larva of Plum fruit moth (Grapholita funebrana) in plum fruit. It is a moth of the family Tortricidae, an important pest of plums.

Codling & Plum Moth Control Products

Aphid Pest Solution: Aphidoletes

Aphidoletes Description

Aphidoletes (Pronounced AY-FID-O-LEE-TEES) is a small midge, 2mm long and slender with long legs. Males have long, grey, “feathered” antennae and females have more simple antennae.

Most often seen are the larvae, which are maggot-like and about 3mm long when fully grown. They are yellow-orange to orange-red in colour and can be seen in aphid colonies.

Aphidoletes is used by commercial growers, usually in combination with Aphidius, to control aphids in greenhouses .

Aphidoletes Life Cycle

Aphidoletes adults feed on aphid honeydew and are active at dusk and during the night. During the day they rest hanging in cobwebs in dark corners.  The bright orange-red eggs are laid among or near to aphid colonies.  Females lay up to 100 eggs in their lifetime (about a week).

After 2 to 3 days, eggs hatch into minute larvae. They are voracious predators and will kill and eat many aphids until fully grown just a week after hatching.  Even a small larva can paralyse and feed from a fully-grown aphid.

When fully grown the larvae fall to the ground, burrow into the soil and spin cocoons that they reinforce with particles of soil. After a few days the larva begins to pupate.

In day length less than 15 hours, larvae do not pupate.  Instead they go into “suspended animation”, until day length increases, at which time they re-awaken to complete development into Aphidoletes adults.

The complete life cycle takes about 3 weeks at 20ºC (68ºF) in the summer.

Aphidoletes Usage

  • Aphidoletes larvae are voracious and are better dealing with larger aphid colonies.
  • They are generalist Aphid predators and attack many species of Aphids.
  • It is best used from May to September.
  • They cannot be stored, it needs to be used on the day of receipt.
  • They are only suitable for use in a greenhouse or conservatory.
  • Adults need a minimum night time temperature of 15ºC (60ºF) for egg laying. However, a temperature of 18ºC (64ºF) is desirable for at least a couple of hours a day. They prefer a relatively high humidity.
  • They needs soil/compost in which to pupate. If the plants being treated are on a concrete floor, they will not be able to complete their life cycle so repeat introductions may be needed.
  • Aphidoletes are harmless to children, pets and wildlife.

Aphid Control Products

Traps for Monitoring and Controlling Garden Pests

Yellow Sticky Traps

Yellow Sticky Traps can be used against a number of insect pests including Whitefly, Thrips, Leaf Miners and Aphids (greenfly and blackfly) in greenhouses and conservatories.

The Sticky Traps should be hung just above the growing points of plants,

They can be used early in the season to monitor pests as small flying insect pests are attracted by the colour of the traps and stick to the outer coating.

As well as monitoring they can be used to help reduce levels of pests.

NB. Remove yellow sticky traps before introducing biological controls.

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Whitefly Pest Solution: Encarsia

Encarsia Description

Encarsia (Pronounced: EN-CAR-SEE-A)is a tiny black and yellow parasitic wasp about 1mm in length. Adult females lay their eggs into whitefly scales (the static, sap-sucking whitefly larvae).

Encarsia Life Cycle

An adult female will lay up to 60 eggs during her short lifetime of 10 to 14 days. Whitefly scales that have been parasitised by Encarsia turn black after about 10 days. Development from egg to adult takes about 28 days at 20°C or 14 days at 30°C.

Encarsia Usage

  • They should only be used in greenhouses or conservatories.
  • Encarsia should be introduced at the first sign of whitefly, yellow sticky traps can be used to monitor when this is.
  • If temperatures are not high enough, use SB Plant Invigorator to keep the numbers down before Encarsia can be introduced.
  • If the whitefly population is already high, it is necessary to spray first with SB Plant Invigorator to reduce the numbers.  It may also be necessary to repeat SB Plant Invigorator sprays after they are introduced, to help establish control at low whitefly levels.  In this case, apply SB Plant Invigorator only to leaves that are densely infested with scales or adults.  Generally, scales will be found on slightly older leaves and adults on young leaves towards the growing point of shoots. Spray undersides of leaves, where most of the whitefly are located.
  • They cannot be stored, and should be used on the day of receipt.
  • Temperatures should not fall below 10°C (50°F) at night, Encarsia will be most effective when temperatures are at least 18°C (64°F) during the day.
  • They may not work well on daturas or regal pelargoniums.
  • Encarsia are harmless to children, pets and wildlife and will not become a pest in its own right.

White Fly Control Products

Pest Problems Explained – WHITEFLY

Whitefly Description

Adult whiteflies as their name suggests are white in colour. They resemble tiny moths and are about 3mm long. When they are not flying (which they do profusely when disturbed) they can usually be found on the undersides of leaves.

Young whitefly look like clear scales and can also be found on the undersides of leaves.

NB. Aphid cast skins are sometimes mistaken for whitefly! However, whitefly will fly away when disturbed, these cast skins will fall off or not move. Just shake the plant to find out which you have!

Whitefly Damage

The whitefly eggs are laid in a horseshoe shape on the undersides of leaves. Once hatched the young nymphs move a short distance so that they are equally spaced and then moult into legless scales that spend the rest of their development feeding by sucking sap. These scales excrete a sticky “honeydew” which falls onto the leaves and fruit below.

Sooty moulds often develop on this “honeydew” and plants under attack appear to lack vigour.

Sooty moulds can reduce the amount of light reaching the leaves which can lead to leaf yellowing and plant death.

Whitefly Life Cycle

Whitefly go through several growing stages between egg and adult. The whole cycle takes about 30 days at 20ºC (68ºF). The length of the adults life depends on the plant on which it was raised.

Freshly hatched adults from the lower leaves of plants fly up to the younger leaves of the plant to lay their eggs.

Whitefly can over-winter in a greenhouse on crops or weeds and the scales can withstand the odd frost.

Biological Control of Whitefly

During the warmer months whitefly can be controlled biologically in greenhouses or conservatories by using their natural enemies such as Encarsia formosa or other specialist whitefly parasites and predators. 

You can monitor whitefly populations with Yellow Sticky Traps.

Vine Weevil Pest Solution: Nemasys Vine Weevil

Nemasys Vine Weevil Description

Steinernema kraussei are tiny parasitic eel worms (nematodes). Barely visible to the naked eye, they occur naturally in British soils.

The nematodes are mixed with a carrier medium to make Nemasys Vine Weevil , this is the form in which they are despatched.

Nemasys Vine Weevil Life Cycle

The nematodes live in moisture surrounding soil particles. They seek out vine weevil grubs and enter them through body openings. Once inside the grub, the nematodes release a bacteria which kills it within 48 hours.

The dead grub then starts to decompose. The nematodes reproduce inside the dead grub and are then released back into the soil to infect more vine weevil grubs.

If there are no grubs present in the soil the nematodes will die out after a few weeks.

Adult Vine Weevil

Nemasys Vine Weevil Usage

  • It will kill vine weevil grubs, it has no effect on the adults or eggs.
  • It can be used in pots and containers as well as open borders. It can also be used on all plants including edible ones.
  • It should be applied to moist soil or compost, the area treated should be kept moist by normal watering after application to enable the nematodes to swim in the soil moisture.
  • It’s most effective at soil temperatures above 5ºC (41ºF).
    NB. Soil temperature is more stable than air temperature. 
  • It is simply applied as a drench and will kill all vine weevil grubs present in the treated area.
    NB. If there are no grubs present the nematodes will die out.
  • It can be kept in a fridge NOT freezer at 5ºC for use before the pack expiry date (about one to two weeks after delivery date), however it is best used immediately upon receipt.
  • It is best applied in the spring (March/May) and autumn (late August/October), these are the times that most vine weevil grubs will be present in the soil.
  • Nemasys Vine Weevil is harmless to children, pets and wildlife and will not become a pest in its own right.

Vine Weevil Control Products

Pest Problems Explained – VINE WEEVIL

Vine Weevil Description

The adult beetle is flightless, it is dark brown or black in colour and has fine yellow speckles on its back, and appears dusty. The adult is nocturnal so rarely seen during the day.

Most commonly found are the larvae (grubs), these are found in soil or compost around the roots of plants. The larvae are creamy-white in colour with a brown head, they curl into a “C” shape when touched. Pupae may also be found amongst the plant roots. These are also creamy-white in colour but have started to produce legs and antennae.

Black Vine Weevil (Otiorhynchus sulcatus)

Vine Weevil Damage

Adults feed on the edges of leaves during the summer, generally April to August, causing notching. The beetles walk and climb exceedingly well, making plants in hanging baskets and wall boxes easy prey.

The eggs laid throughout the summer develop into larvae (grubs) which feed on plant roots, this is the stage in which the insect causes most damage.

Symptoms range from lack of growth, dying leaves or branches right through to sudden wilting and death. The latter case being seen when plants have single tap roots or have been attacked at the main stem.

Grubs can also bore into corms and either kill by eating the inside away or by allowing infection to enter and cause rot.

Black vine weevil

Vine Weevil Life Cycle

All vine weevil are female, and so all adults are capable of laying eggs. The adults are nocturnal, hiding during the day at the base of plants, under plant pots or hidden in debris. They can often be found inside houses.

The adults lay their eggs around the base of a plant, each adult will lay on average 500-600 eggs throughout the summer, although as many as 1,500 has been recorded.

Newly laid eggs are white turning brown as they mature. Potentially 40% of eggs can make it to the larval stage although dry or very wet soil conditions will take their toll.

The eggs take between 8.4 days at 27ºC and 56 days at 9ºC to hatch into larvae. At this stage the larvae are about 1mm in length, creamy white with a dark head. Eventually these grubs can grow up to 13mm in length after feeding.

When the grubs are fully grown they burrow 15-20cm into the soil to pupate before hatching as adults.

In warm greenhouses, all stages of the vine weevil can be found at any time. Outside, in pots and containers, the adults usually start to hatch in April, this can be earlier in warmer years.

The adults feed throughout the summer, lay eggs from late August and die out during the autumn. The grubs in the soil then over-winter before pupating and hatching in the spring.

Biological Control of Vine Weevil

Vine weevil can be controlled biologically by using their natural enemy, the parasitic nematode, Steinernema kraussei also known as Nemasys.

Thrips Pest Solution: Amblyseius cucumeris

Amblyseius Description

Amblyseius (Pronounced: AM-BLI-SAY-US) are small very active predatory mites, about 1mm long, pale brown in colour with slightly flattened pear shaped bodies, their eggs are white.

Amblyseius are used to control thrips by growers in commercial horticulture.

Amblyseius cucumeris Life Cycle

Amblyseius adults produce several eggs a day and are quite long lived. Both the adults and young mites eat thrips and may also eat young spider mites.

Amblyseius cucumeris Usage

  • Amblyseius requires a temperature of 18°C (64°F).
  • Amblyseius should be introduced to the greenhouse/conservatory on the day of receipt.
  • Amblyseius are sensitive to long hot dry spells, so damping down or misting can help at these times.
  • Amblyseius sachets should not be placed in direct sunlight or near to heating pipes.
  • Like all Defenders biological controls, Amblyseius is harmless to children, pets and wildlife and will not become a pest in its own right.

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