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Underground destroyers

By Sharon Omahen
University of Georgia

Spring garden time will be here before you know it, so get rid of hidden soil insects while you can.

"Once you've planted your garden, there's very little you can do to control soil insects like white grubs and wireworms," said Alton "Stormy" Sparks, an Extension vegetable entomologist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

Home gardeners' best defenses against soil insects are avoiding them and physically destroying them, Sparks said.

A Rototiller is your best control

"Since Dursban and Diazinon were removed from the market, your best option for controlling these grubs and worms is your Rototiller," he said. "Get in your garden now and till, till, till to eliminate weeds and (kill as many insects) as you can."

If you think this sounds harsh, just think ahead to what these little subterranean critters have planned for your vegetable plants.

White grubs and wireworms are actually immature beetles.

"They'll feed on plant roots and seeds," Sparks said. "They may not kill the plant outright, but they will seriously stunt the growth."

The key to reducing problems with soil insects in your garden is to keep a clean site.

Keep your garden site host-free

"Making sure your garden site is weed-free now will help you be pest-free later, Sparks said. "Soil insects are there before you plant. If it's host-free now, insects won't be attracted to the site. And you're less likely to have soil insects after you plant."

Once you start planting, you can avoid many of the early-season problems by using transplants instead seeds. If you do want to seed, he said, wait until the soil warms up so the plants can sprout and grow fast.

Aside from soil insects, most insect problem happen after you plant.

"Once your garden begins to come up, just monitor for insects and control them when necessary using a simple solution such as physical removal of pests," Sparks said.

"A lot of people don't realize," he said, "that if the number of pests are limited and you don't have a huge garden, (it's best to) just get in there and pull them off."

(Sharon Omahen is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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