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How can I stay on top of yard and garden problems?

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The best monitoring device for yards and gardens is a simple stroll through the landscape every evening or two. If you pay attention to certain areas, and know what to look for, most infestations can be spotted while they are small and easy to control. If you forget, and only venture into the garden once every week or two, what was a small problem has become gigantic and is much harder to control. Here are some monitoring tips:

* Know where to look and what the damage looks like. Look for plants that appear damaged. Some pests eat chunks out of leaves, soft herbaceous growth and even wood. Examine the leaves - especially those close to the ground.
* Slugs and snails normally take bites out of the leaves in their territory. They often eat the margins of the leaves, leaving only the veins and stalks in their wake. They also may leave a slimy trail, but not always. Since they feed at night, they are usually off sleeping, oblivious to our fretting about the damage during the day.
* Other night feeders are the black root weevils. This group of nasty insects removes perfect little semi-circular shapes around the edges of many plants. Their damage begins to appear this time of year. The adults and larva live in the soil, and the black adults come out to feed at night. Grasshoppers are another common leaf-eater. They consume nearly anything that is in their path including berries, small trees and napping dogs. Normally they do their damage throughout the day, where we can see them.
* Feel the leaves of the plants while strolling through the yard. If they are sticky, aphids are probably to blame. They also roll the leaves as they begin to feed. This is another symptom to look for on the plants. Aphids do not bite, but they do suck on plants. The ground may also be a little sticky under a tree that has an aphid infestation.
* Mites are another sucking insect. However, they do not normally leave a sticky mess as they eat. Mite damage is evident when the leaves start to turn yellow, rust or other off color. If you suspect mite damage, hold a white piece of paper under the leaves and shake them a little. If the small dots on the paper start to move, chances are they are mites.
* Occasionally, you may spot some leaves that are beginning to wilt. This can be an indication that the plants are either getting too much or too little water. Dig around the base of the plant to check the moisture level and condition of the roots. If the soil is bone dry three to four inches down, more water may be needed. If the soil is damp, the plant may be suffering from root rot or another problem associated with over watering. Often the soil will smell a little musty and old. Cut into a root and examine it. It should be firm and white. If it is soft or mushy, with brown, purple or black streaks, it is rot. Let the soil dry out and adjust your watering schedule.
* Over-watering also contributes to iron chlorosis. This is most noticeable on the newer leaves of the plants. They turn a yellowish color while the veins remain green. Examine both the newer and older leaves to see if there is any difference in their color and growth.
* Look for other plants that appear to be off-colored. Compare them with similar, healthy plants. Monitoring the landscape regularly makes it easier to notice any change in appearance. It is also much easier to control a pest problem while it is still small and before it gets out of hand.

Posted on 24 Mar 2001

Jerry Goodspeed
County Director, Horticulture Agent, Weber County

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