Dealing with annual pests

Annuals that were healthy when you brought them home and that you planted in an appropriate spot with adequate moisture rarely develop any problems. Annuals are pretty tough by nature. That said, sometimes one or many hungry bugs show up to dine on your display. This section gives you the basics on the most common culprits, along with some advice on how to battle them. Of course, if things get bad enough, you can just yank out the plants and buy new ones — though just to be safe, put the replacements in a different spot.

Aphids

Aphids come in all colors and are often prevalent, so people tend to worry about them too much. It's easy enough to rub these plant-sucking insects out, literally, by squishing them with your fingers. Or hose them off with a strong spray of water. Some companies sell ladybugs as natural aphid controls, though ladybugs aren't too dependable — keeping them in your yard is a challenge.

Cutworms

Cutworms are actually moth larvae. These little fellows rest in your garden soil by day and emerge at night to dine on your annuals, especially newly planted, juicy ones. A clever and safe control is to press a collar of cardboard (a six-ounce tuna fish or cat food can works well as a template) around the plants. The collar should go 1 to 2 inches into the ground and 2 or 3 inches above ground level; the natural growth of your annuals may soon hide this barrier from view.

Japanese beetles

If you live east of the Mississippi, you've probably seen Japanese beetles — they're approximately fingernail-size and copper-colored, with green heads and legs. They eat all plant parts, though chewed-up leaves are their hallmark. Hand-pick Japanese beetles (a great money-making project for your kids!) and drown them in a bucket of soapy water.

Slugs and snails

Ravenous and disgusting creatures, slugs and snails can decimate your annual flowerbeds and even get into container displays. If you don't catch these pests in the act, you'll certainly spot their giveaway slime trails. These critters are mainly active at night and especially relish damp conditions.

Watering early in the day and spacing plants so they aren't crowded may help, but sterner measures are necessary if you have many snails and slugs and they persist. You can set traps that you buy down at the garden center or set out pie trays of cheap beer. Alternatively, protect your plants with barriers of copper strips or sharp diatomaceous earth (fossilized algae — again, available where gardening supplies are sold) — slugs and snails won't cross these. A relatively harmless pelletized form of iron phosphate sold as Sluggo is a safe and effective control.

Don't pour salt on slugs; salt can damage your plants. Also, some slug and snail products, like metaldehyde and iron sulfate, can be poisonous to pets. Opt for the safer controls first.

Spider mites

You may not spot the actual culprits — spider mites are really tiny reddish, brownish or yellow spider-like pests — but you will see their webs on the leaves of your annuals. These pests are particularly prevalent when the weather is hot and the soil is dry. Combat them by picking off and destroy-ing affected foliage; rinsing or spraying surviving leaves; or spraying with insecticidal soap.

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