As summer kicks into high gear, we often start to see more pest problems. An important and often overlooked part of pest management is scouting. It can help you figure out what is going on in your garden/landscape and help you determine if you need to take any action to manage any pests that are present (particularly if you are going to be using pesticides). Take a stroll through your landscape at least weekly and be on the lookout for pests and diseases.
While you are scouting, one thing to keep in mind is, are there enough pests for it to be worthwhile to treat, and is the damage they are causing going to be detrimental? For example, if you have some pests eating your tomato leaves, you can wait longer to control them compared to if they are eating the fruit. Some ornamentals may be in a more visible location (by the front door) where damage is less tolerable compared to plants in other areas (in the backyard tucked away in a seldom-used corner).
Start by scanning your landscape as a whole. Look for any plants that look out of the ordinary and start by inspecting them a little more closely. A magnifying glass or hand lens may be helpful, especially when looking for smaller pests but aren't necessary.
Often, insects will hide on the undersides of leaves, so going out and flipping over leaves is a good way to scout for insects. Many pest insects like to feed on young, tender growth, so make sure to take a little extra time when inspecting new shoots. Insects and diseases will also build up on older leaves of plants as well, so make sure to check them out too.
After you have gone out and looked in your garden or landscape at the pests, you need to figure out what they are. Pest identification is important because it will help determine potential management techniques. Some pests may not cause much damage, and management may not be warranted if they are found. Others can cause quite a bit of damage and will need to be managed. In some cases, the issues you are seeing may not be pest damage at all. Properly identifying pests will help determine what kind of management strategies should be used or if any are even needed.
If you need help determining what a pest is or if it's something you need to think about managing, you can bring samples into any of our extension offices. You can also send samples to the University of Illinois Plant Clinic. Their website can be found at web.extension.illinois.edu/plantclinic. There you will find instructions on how to submit samples as well as any fees that may apply.
Good Growing Tip of the Week: When we scout, we often do it during the day. If you want to change things up a bit, grab a flashlight and head out at night. Some pests such as cutworms, slugs, and snails are most active at night.
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