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Prevention, Identification and Control of Pests of Home Garden Bulbs

By February 18, 2009

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Bulb is a collective term used for a range of underground storage organs such as corms (which actually are plant stems, not bulbs, with solid internal tissue and a bud on top of the corm, like crocus and gladiolus), rhizomes, like cannas, ginger and turmeric, that reproduce by sending out new shoots from root nodes to the soil's surface and tubers, which are enlarged, nutrient repositories found in potatoes, begonias and daylillies.

Prevention
Start with dormant bulbs with papery skin intact, few wrinkles, no soft spots, minimal roots and topgrowth although lillies may be an exception. Plant in well drained soil amended with worm compost, let foliage die back naturally to fuel future growth and mark bulb sites so that bulbs may be located later to dig up for winter storage. Finally remove excess plant debris from the bed to prevent promoting disease and pests.

Identification & Control

If bulb leaves become yellow and distorted and have brown powdery spots, then bulb mites are the likely culprits. They can be prevented by dipping the bulbs in 120 degree water before planting and by destroying any infected plant material. Avoid re-planting in the same area until the following season as rot-producing fungi and bacteria may still be living in the soil.

Japanese Beetles munch on leaves, stalks and flowers, leaving holes or completely defoliating the plant. They are usually large enough to be seen as they feed in the daytime so can be hand-picked and dropped into soapy water. Milky disease spores or parasitic nematodes can be applied to the soil to control grub and larvae infestations. When all else fails, neem or pyrethrin can be sprayed onto affected plants although beneficial insects will also be destroyed with this last-ditch effort.

Large, ragged holes in leaves connected with slimy trails mean that snails are on the march in the garden. Combat them with barriers of cedar sawdust, sand, wood ashes or copper edging. Encourage snail-predatory beetles with stone walkways, sod and clover. Handpick resting slugs from under boards, overturned pots or cabbage leaves and feed them to chickens or fish or drown them in soapy water and add them to compost.

Clusters of small insects on leaves that are sticky and distorted are aphids, which can spread plant viruses in addition to causing blossom and leaf drop. Strong sprays of water may be enough to dislodge them or predators such as midges, lacewings, beetles and spiders can be purchased. Other useful sprays are neem, garlic-based or citrus oil and insecticidal soap. Boric acid baits can be placed at the base of plants to break the symbiotic cycle by eliminating the honeydew-feeding ants that ferry aphids which suck the plant sap that produces the honeydew.

So like many things in the home garden, bulbs can be selected, maintained and treated with least-toxic pest control methods, ensuring a healthy bulb, flower and soil and bringing many smiles to those fortunate enough to enjoy Nature's bounty.

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