"Pests of Urban Gardens" opens series at library

"Pests of Urban Gardens" opens series at library

Talk by Dr. Mary Sullivan of NatureWorks Landscape Services

Photos, above: 1. Speaker Dr. Mary Sullivan 2. Do marigolds deter rabbits? 3. Ladybugs help keep the aphid population down.

Winter is still with us, but a talk at the Cambridge Public Library by garden expert Dr. Mary Sullivan on Wednesday evening, March 8 helped about two dozen local horticulture enthusiasts shift their focus to spring. Her talk, titled “Pests of Urban Gardens,” was the first in the 2017 Urban Garden Series of six lectures sponsored by the New England Wild Flower Society’s Garden in the Woods and the Cambridge Conservation Commission.

Dr. Sullivan spoke in the lecture hall at the Main Library on Broadway. Defining a pest informally as "something in your garden that you don't want," she identified a wide range of common pests and proposed practical ways to deal with them.

Gardeners can get an idea of what really works against pests from a variety of sources, she said. University fact sheets are the best place for information; Pinterest should be used with caution. When you know the source of the information is trustworthy, this is the best resource. Soil tests can help determine which nutrients are present or lacking in your gardens. Understanding why your plants may be stressed with absence of available nutrients can help gardeners understand why they may have struggling gardens.

Most of the pest control measures suggested by Sullivan involved items homeowners are likely to have on hand -- things like vinegar or garlic solutions, rather than commercial products. Some people believe rabbits can be deterred by planting marigolds, she said, but putting up chicken wire or electric fencing is a more reliable defense. She noted the effectiveness of everyday actions like trash removal, cleaning around the barbeque grill, and removing dead leaves. She cited one exotic treatment -- spreading owl feathers, which can be bought on line, as a repellant. Other recommended procedures included:
-- use of companion plantings such as tomatoes/basil/parsley.
-- floating row covers.
-- mulching for weeds.
-- placing tubes around susceptible plants like tomatoes.
-- installing wireless electronic fences or motion-activated sparklers to keep out deer.

Commonly used insect deterrents listed in the presentation included ground pepper and lemon grass. Basil, catnip, lavender, petunia, and rosemary plants were cited as natural insect repellants. Beneficial insects like ladybugs help with aphid control.

This year and the next in Massachusetts are part of a three-year gypsy moth cycle, according to Sullivan. Ways of battling the moths, whose caterpillars feed on and threaten beloved trees like maples, oaks, and elms, have so far not been very effective. Biological controls that counter the infestation include mice, predatory beetles, and stink bugs, and these are generally considered more positive in their effects than more extreme measures to limit the damage, she said.
UMAss Soil Testing Lab https://ag.umass.edu/services/soil-plant-nutrient-testing-laboratory
UMAss Fact sheets https://ag.umass.edu/landscape/fact-sheets
Dr. Sullivan is on the staff at NatureWorks Landscape services, Inc. (natureworkslandscape.com) Her background includes a B.A.in English and Fine Arts, Amherst College; Landscape Design Certificate, The Landscape Institute - Harvard University / Arnold Arboretum; MA Certified Horticulturist.