As we move into the warmer weather months, insects, diseases, and other problems will appear in our home landscapes. To minimize these issues, carefully examine all lawn and garden areas to see what the troubles are present. Doing so will help you detect problems early. A trowel, a white index card, and perhaps a hand pruner will help you with your landscape detective work.

First, visit your herbaceous annuals and perennials plants, which usually need the most immediate attention. Are they healthy, green, and solid or spindly, yellow, and weak? They may need fertilizer. Annuals benefit from light, frequent applications of it.

Thoroughly check all parts of the plant because some symptoms could indicate one of several issues. Yellowing can also mean too much water, and recent rains have kept the soil wet. Dig down a little to see how moist the soil is and its ability to drain. Heavy, wet soils can be detrimental to many landscape plants and may be hard to remedy without renovating the bed. Check the blooms of these plants. Deadheading or removing spent flowers will help keep them blooming all summer.

Look carefully at the foliage on all plants. Are the leaves spotted or riddled with holes? Are they speckled, bronze-colored, or different in anyway? Insects or diseases can cause leaf spots on all plants. Yellow or purple haloes around the dark spots indicate a fungal or bacterial infection. Improving the air circulation by lightly pruning will enhance a plant’s health. Removal of plant debris that has fallen to the ground can serve as a source of disease and insect pests. Avoid applying too much water, do so earlier in the day, and direct it to the base of the plant where the roots are while avoiding getting the foliage wet.

Insect damage may appear as solid, blackish-brown spots, chewed areas, or speckled leaves. Be sure to look at the undersides of the leaves. Many insects will feed and hide there. Correctly identifying the insect is the key to selecting the correct control. Remember, there are far more beneficial insects out there than bad ones. Beneficial ones, such as lady beetles and lacewings, do a great job keeping damaging insects at bay. Use insecticides sparingly.

Use an insect identification book or website and learn how to tell the good bugs from the bad ones. You can contact the Extension office for assistance. Treat plants only when pests are causing more damage than you desire. Some insects are so tiny they are hard to see. Using your white index card can help. If you see speckled or off-colored foliage and suspect insects but cannot see any, then shake the leaves briskly over the index card. If you observe specks moving on the paper, the plant has an infestation of spider mites, building up heavy infestations quickly if conditions are right. For control, use a pesticide labeled for mite control.

Check azaleas for off-colored foliage, too. A typical summer problem is lace bugs, which are small pierce-sucking insects that feed on the undersides of the leaves of azaleas, lantanas, pyracanthas, and other plants. Though they will not cause serious harm, they harm the quality of the appearance. Initiate control early in the season with an insecticide labeled for controlling lace bugs. Since azaleas prefer partial shade, plant them in these areas since they are more likely to get infested with lacebugs in full sun.

Chewing damage on leaves often indicates another type of insect damage, such as Japanese beetles, leaf beetles, snails, and slugs. Once you know which culprit is munching on your plants, select the appropriate control. Insects are usually easier to kill when they are young and small than when larger.

Though the home landscape can suffer many issues, being vigilant and scout the plants continually will reduce the pest problems. Keep the plants healthy by planting in the right site with appropriate sunlight, soil drainage, and climate hardiness.

Timothy Daly is an Agricultural and Natural Resource Extension Agent with UGA Extension Gwinnett.

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