If you're a gardener (even someone just getting their feet wet), you know what it's like trying to manage insects, diseases, and weeds in the garden. Once the seasons really starts going we always have some insect pest that decides it wants to use our plants as dinner. We try to find more effective and back friendly ways of controlling weeds. Early blight on tomatoes got you down, what can we do to slow it down. One of the best things we can do while in the garden is be observant. This allows us the opportunity to catch problems before they get out of hand such as a tomato hornworm that has devoured half your tomato plant for dinner.

I receive a variety of calls and emails from people looking for help and guidance. I always try and get the entire story before making any recommendations so that we can find the best course of action. Over the years I've received a variety of questions from people wanting answers on how to save their plant. My tree is dying what do I spray on it? My plant isn't doing well and someone told me to spray it with fungicides but it's not getting better, what else should I try? Something is eating my plant and I sprayed it with this insecticide but it's still getting eaten, what should I spray instead?

When it comes to using any kind of chemical control on plants – insecticide, fungicide, or herbicide, you need to know what you are dealing with before you start spraying. For example – identifying the pest that is eating your plant first so that you select the proper insecticide. The other side of all of this is looking at helping your plants and garden from an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) perspective where chemical controls are a last resort.

Before jumping to using chemicals there are some questions and other tactics to employ first. What cultural improvements can we make that might include altering how and when we water, amending soil with compost, mulching. What mechanical controls can we employ – pulling weeds, using a stirrup hoe to disturb young weeds, or physically removing insect pests (such as tomato hornworm). Maybe there are biological controls available such as encouraging beneficial insects that feed on insects that cause damage to plants such as aphids.

If it comes to a point where chemical controls do need to be employed in the garden follow these steps:

1) Positively identify the problem – know what the weed, insect, or disease is.

2) Find out what products are labeled for both your problem and the plant that you will be spraying – both have to be on the label.

3) Thoroughly read the label – even if you've used the same product over and over again – labels change. A great example of a recent change to labels is for imidicloprid. This insecticide is commonly used as a soil drench for trees attacked by Japanese Beetles. Updated labels are now read that the product is NOT to be used on any trees in the Tilia genus – including Linden Trees (which are a Japanese Beetle favorite) due to the products high toxicity to pollinators.

4) Apply the product according to directions – do not mix more than listed or apply more frequently. Remember, the label is the law.

5) Make sure to follow clean up and storage guidelines on the label. As a quick side note - even if there is very little product left in the bottle, leave it in the bottle it came in for labeling and safety reasons.

Remember, you can always contact your local Extension office for assistance with plant, disease, and insect identification as well as advice on controls and overall plant care.