Homegrown: Oct. 15, 2011

I have a severe infestation of flea beetles on my tomatoes and potatoes. I spray with Sevin and also with an organic spray called Pyola, which seems to slow them down for a while but doesn’t really do anything about getting rid of them.

Is there anything I can do NOW to diminish the nasty little creatures next spring? Someone told me I should cover my garden with plastic for a season, but wouldn’t that also kill all the earth worms and other beneficial critters in the soil?

I really don’t want to have to use an insecticide all the time but I don’t know what else to do. If I don’t use the spray, the plants are decimated.

— Jeannie

I’m not aware of anything you can do this fall to mitigate flea beetle problems next year.

The past couple of years, I’ve had problems with them. They just adore my arugula and bok choy.

I’ve sprayed with Permethrin and have had great results. Permethrin is what’s called a synthetic pyrethroid that’s related chemically to the natural insecticide Pyrethrum.

It has better residual activity than Pyrethrum while sharing its potent effectiveness on insects and its low toxicity to warm-blooded critters like us.

Many flea beetles tend to be a problem with seedlings and young plants of our vegetables so hitting them early is a key to knocking down their numbers and avoiding bigger problems later in the season.

Even doing this doesn’t get you out of the woods since there are a number of different species of flea beetle that we can fight in the garden with different target plants and different life cycles.

You should plan on applying additional sprays every two weeks if the flea beetles continue to plague your plants, though I haven’t found that to be necessary in our garden; one and sometimes two sprays is enough to take care of the problem.

If you want to try to control them organically, I’d try diatomaceous earth. Dust on and around your plants, again, starting early.

The problem with this product is that you’ll have to reapply it after you water the plants or if it rains, but it should work pretty effectively for you.

For my garden, I’m sticking with the Permethrin. It’s really taken care of the problem the past two years for me.

I planted about seven balled and burlap trees over Labor Day weekend and they looked great. However, they are now turning color and the leaves are falling. I’m wondering if they got stressed after being moved. I water them two days a week for about 30 minutes, twice a day.

— Nicholas

What you’re seeing isn’t too much of a concern to me. It’s probably mostly transplant stress. This time of year, the B&B trees have rooted out a bit into the sawdust around their root balls and digging them up affects those roots, resulting in the stress you’re seeing.

We wrap our root balls with a weed barrier fabric to try to minimize that rooting out, but there are always some roots that venture out past it. The stress is minor and shouldn’t affect the tree to any great extent.

It mostly turns into premature coloring up and leaf drop this fall with no lingering problems next spring.

I would back off of the watering a bit, though. With this cooler weather, a good soaking once every week or two should suffice. I don’t think it’s hurting the tree to a huge extent, but it may be contributing to the overall stress level of the tree.

As I said before, I’m not too worried about them. Tighten up a bit on the water for now and watch it over the winter, being prepared to water them occasionally as needed, and I think they’ll be fine next spring.


Dennis Hill is the nursery manager at Bookcliff Gardens, http://www.bookcliffgardens.com. Send questions to Bookcliff Gardens, 755 26 Road, Grand Junction 81506; or e-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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