Doesn't Mulch Offer Protection for Pests?

Miss_Mudcat(SE Indiana z5)September 26, 2005

I was just reading the thread "Should I mulch in Fall?" and I have to ask what about all those pesky cucumber beetles that overwinter there so snug? I HATE those cursed creatures!

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Applying a mulch in the fall may be too late too help if the adults have already burrowed down into ground litter. According to ATTRA, a more timely applied heavy mulch may discourage adults cucumber beetles from laying eggs in the soil. If not in your soil at the base of your cucumber plants, the adults will overwinter in ground litter up to a mile away. I haven't been bothered by them yet, but if I were, I would follow the recommended advice about row covers and crop rotation.

I know there are those here that scoff at crop rotation in a home garden and will cite some 300 foot rule, but it makes sense to me to not have hungry insects emerge from the ground already underneath the protective row covers rather than outside them.

Here is a link that might be useful: ATTRA Cucumber beetle page

    Bookmark   September 26, 2005 at 9:28AM
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Attracting birds to your yard (for instance with a strategically placed birdbath) can help keep things balanced. Mulch is one of the things that brings in the birds. They forage in the mulch for insects, including the beetles. A natural control that's good for wildlife and your plants.

    Bookmark   September 26, 2005 at 9:51AM
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Good point Organica,

Mulch does seem to be a bird magnet in my garden, even if I've yet to see a single bird at the bird bath. (Perhaps they prefer the cooler water in the creek?)

The ultimate bird control for insects is to let chickens range through the garden.

    Bookmark   September 26, 2005 at 10:30AM
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Mulch is an ideal habitat for slugs. And also ground beetles, the prime slug-slayer. The ground beetles are winning. Regards, Peter.

    Bookmark   September 26, 2005 at 6:27PM
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Mulch: Battleground of Bugs!

    Bookmark   September 26, 2005 at 7:31PM
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Many people making the switch from their attempt to make a sterile world find that for a time, until they get their soil into a good, healthy state there is an increase in the number of pests they need to contend with. But over time those numbers dimish as the plants that are grown become more healthy and less attractive to the pests and the predators start to thrive in a safer environment. So while mulches may provide shelter for the pests those same mulches also provide shelter for the predators that will control those pests, and that mulch will eventually help your soil become a good, healthy place for plants to grow and the plants themselves will be less desirable to the pests.
There is nothing but benefit to mulching your soil in the fall.

    Bookmark   September 27, 2005 at 7:02AM
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Ah, here is how you deal with mulch and bugs. You move your portable chicken pen (also called a portable dog run) into your garden area where squash/cucumbers, etc, grew during the summer. Then you throw in all the bags of leaves you collected out on the curb from neighbors cleaning their lawns, making a nice layer at least a foot thick, inside the chicken coop (dog house) and all around the run. Then you just let your backyard chickens scuffle around in the leaves and the dirt under them all fall and winter long. In the very late winter/early spring, you move the chicken pen out of the garden area, till in the mulch/chicken litter, add a little more mulch until you are really ready to plant, and then put tomatoes there.

I've been puting my chickens in my garden for the winter off and on for about 7 years, and they do a great job of digging up insects and insect eggs, as well as fertilizing the ground for heavy feeding crops. I only keep 2 or 3 chickens, so the soil under their 8x10 foot run gets fertilized, not polluted, in the 4-6 months the cage stays in one spot.


    Bookmark   September 30, 2005 at 4:20PM
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byron(4a/5b NH)

I have read many reports that mulch/np till garden can increase insect populations

An IPM method is to fall till to disturb insects that over winter in garden soil

A different look


    Bookmark   September 30, 2005 at 6:05PM
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Chickens are a good control of overwintering insects if you have the opportunity or inclination to raise them. Most people won't or can't, often because of ignorant people on zoning boards, or worse, the neo-dictators people subject thenselves to when the subjugate their rights to the nitwits that dominate most homeowners associations.

Occasionally, some people will have problems with insects that may overwinter. Often the simple solution is to rotate crops within the garden. (If all goes on schedule, someone will now chime in to say that rotation is useless in a home garden unless you can move crops an arbitrary 300 feet.) I will rotate crops between beds each year and, especially if I'm using a row cover, those insects will not emerge at the base of the plants they love. It makes little sense to plant the same crop in the same place and then apply row coverings to try to exclude insects already established in the soil underneath them.

Some people complain about an increase of slugs in heavily mulched gardens. I've noticed this myself and just take steps to deal with the slug population.

My main "problem" with a permanent much is that I have to remove it from planting beds in the early spring to allow the soil to warm (I'm on the cold side of zone 4.)

As with any gardening technique, each gardener needs to weigh the benefits of mulch vs any possible negative effects. Mulch contributes to the fertility of the soil by providing a steady supply of food for the micro-organisms and worms. It shades the soil, lowering the temperature to conserve moisture and reduce the need to water. It blankets the soil making it difficult for most weeds to emerge and compete with your plants. It often helps to keep fruits and vegetables clean for harvesting. Lastly, I like how tidy it makes the beds look.

These are enough benefits for me. I'll deal with any insect problems that arise. The alternative is to weed more, water more and fertilize more often.

    Bookmark   September 30, 2005 at 8:36PM
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There is a proposal out there that would effectively prohibit all you backyard chicken ranchers form having those chickens. Check out this lionk and take whatever action you deem appropriate.

Here is a link that might be useful: Proposal to ban backyard chicken ranches

    Bookmark   October 1, 2005 at 7:24AM
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peterpanscarlet(z8.5 SW USA)

We do 6 inches of hay mulch in our organic garden here in South Texas and we have lots of wolf spiders living in it. They are one of our primary predators and the hay gives them protection from birds and wasps. These spiders are not dangerous to humans and just run away whenever we are messing with the mulch. Wolf spiders don't make webs, they run around and hunt.

Anyway, my point is that the beneficials need much of the same habitat as the pest bugs...and the beneficials EAT the pest bugs. If you just work to get your plants as healthy as possible through good soil nutrition, correct watering and planting times then your insect populations will balance themselves out.

Let them fight it out! Yes, you may loose a small amount of your plants or fruits to bugs, but it won't be substantial and the plants which survive are the strong ones you want anyway.

    Bookmark   December 28, 2005 at 2:37PM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

If you can't have chickens or ducks, bird baths and bird feeders are the next best thing.

I must not be reading what y'all are reading. This is news to me about mulch harboring pests. If you think it's a problem, you can use my new best friends, beneficial nematodes, to control the pests. I spray in late January (which is considered to be early spring here). That controls thrips, fleas, ticks, noseeums, and chiggers for several months. BN control about 250 species of pests, but these are the ones I get. Spray them down during a long drenching rain to get a good foothold.

Here is a link that might be useful: Beneficial Nematodes

    Bookmark   January 1, 2006 at 9:40PM
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    Bookmark   October 11, 2008 at 8:16AM
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If cucumber beetles are already established in your soil you may want to apply a good heavy application of Rotonone in the Fall or early Spring, and then mulch heavily. The mulch will allow the Roronone to slowly migrate into the soil killing the beetle lavre.

I know a lot of purists frown on using even 100% organic & safe controls, but I believe they are useful and sometimes necessary in moderation and with good cause. Once you have healthy soil, a good balance between good and bad insects, you won't need to use them. I would rather use a safe control, rather than lose a crop or have a problem spread further.

The Garden Guy
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    Bookmark   October 11, 2008 at 2:48PM
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organicguy, Rotenone has been frowned on by knowledgelable organic gardeners for several years now. Rotenone is not something that is acceptable to a good organic gardener.

    Bookmark   October 12, 2008 at 6:37AM
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And why is it frowned upon? It's organic, non-toxic and does the job. I guess everything is based upon what "organic" means to you. To me it means not using chemicals and toxic substances in my garden, and Rotonone is neither. To others, "organic" means not using anything, and let nature take it's course. That works in a natural ecosystem where plants and insects of all types are free to grow freely, but a garden is not a natural ecosystem. It is confined to a handful of selected crops is a small area, which by it's very nature invites unwanted pests, disease and animal problems. Our goal should be to make our gardens as close to a natural ecosystem as possible, but sometimes problems arise and controls are needed. I would rather use safe, non-toxic organic controls sparing, when absolutely needed, than ruin a crop and spread disease and harmful insects to other plants. Where do you draw the line? Do purists also frown upon using organic soil ammendments such as bone meal, blood meal, feather meal, rock phospate, greensand, etc. or is compost and mulch the only acceptable additives?
I have learned a lot of lessons gardening and farming organically for over 45 years, and one is dealing with reality. That is a call every organic gardener needs to make for his or her self. What does organic mean to you?

    Bookmark   October 12, 2008 at 10:34AM
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Being an organic gardener/farmer is much more than simply not using "chemicals" or "toxic" substances in your garden. Rotenone is a toxic substance and a chemical and is a long lasting, broad spectrum poison that has been found to kill aquatic life even when applied even quite some distance from a stream or lake. Since Insecticidal Soaps kill insects they also are toxic substances, at least to the insects they kill.
Organic gardening/farming is also much more than simply substituting on type of fertilizers (organic) for any other (synthetic). Our goal, as organic gardners/farmers is to make the soil as healthy as possible (that is not the same as a natural ecosystem) with a well balanced nutrient load so that soil will grow strong and healthy plants.

    Bookmark   October 13, 2008 at 6:51AM
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Well, then we can agree to disagree. Rotonone is entirely plant based and organic and was a staple go-to comtrol in organic gardening and agriculture for many decades, as is Pyrethium and BT.
Anything can be harmful to any kind of life if used carelessly. Years ago, using high applications of salt to control weeks in asparagus was a highly recommended organic control, but it also killed everything else and nothing but asparagus would grow in the soil. Add too much limestone and you get soil so alkaline almost nothing will grow in it. Over water and you have wilt and fungus issues. The need for responsible use of any soil ammendment or application is the foundation of sound organic gardening.

Building up the soil is indeed a goal of organic gardeners and farmers, but that takes time, and that alone will not prevent occasional problems that occur by not having a balanced ecosystem. If you are willing to lose crops and live with the spread of disease and harmful insect imbalances because you don't want to use safe organic controls, that is certainly your choice.

    Bookmark   October 13, 2008 at 12:20PM
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Arsenic is a naturally ocuring poison too, but organic gardeners/famers that used it regularly in the 1950's and 1960's have stopped today. Back then itr was available as "Paris Green". Simply because something is natural, or even plant derived, does not make it acceptable to organic gardeners/farmers. Rotenone has been found to be simply too toxicfor use.
Salt was recommended as a "weed" control in Asparagus fileds by people that knew not what they were talking about, and many people, thinking that salt was a natural product, thought it was not harmful. Many of us knew better and advised against it then as now.

    Bookmark   October 13, 2008 at 8:03PM
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PaulNS(NS zone 6a)

Holy smokes Kimmsr, what are you, a hundred? :) I thought using salt as a fertilizer/weed control went back a long long ways. It's okay, you don't have to reveal your age, and besides we are all imaginary here.

Since straw mulch harbours slugs, and ammonia kills slugs, would spraying straw with ammonia do double duty as a slug killer and a nitrogen source to compost the straw over the gardening season, or is this bad thinking?

    Bookmark   October 14, 2008 at 5:00PM
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I think you are missing the point, my friend. Arsenic is poisonous to humans, while the organic insect controls we are speaking about are harmless to humans. That is a big difference. Crude oil is natural too, but I wouldn't spray it on my garden or drink the stuff. We need to use a little common sense and logic here.

The reason they used sale to control weeks in asparagus, was because asparagus grew well in shore areas with high salt consentrations. Salt proved to be very harmful to organic garden soil, so the practice was abandonded by most.

From my perspective, if something is organic, plant based and does not do irrepepritive damage to my soil, plants or health, I see no reason not to use it. You are free to disagree.

    Bookmark   October 14, 2008 at 5:29PM
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Arsenic is poisonous to many things, not just humans, or it would not have been used as a pesticide for hundreds of years. Any product that kills an insect has the potential to be harmful to humans. Water, in the right quantity, will kill you, as wiil table salt, sugar, flour and many other common "household" products.
A good organic gardener will consider what happens outside his garden as well as in that garden, ie the affect of what that gardener is doing on the total environment. So if a product is known to be harmful to life outside your garden it should not be used in your garden, and Rotenone is known to kill aquatic life, and it is used in some places to gather fish, even if your garden is miles from a lake or stream. Using such a broad spectrum poison is outside the ken of organic gardening.

    Bookmark   October 23, 2008 at 6:23AM
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Going by your idea of what a good organic garden does and does not do, you better not use manure them, since manure can contain harmful bacteria that can cause disease in humans. And if you get manure in to ponds and streams, it too will kill aquatic life. And compost can also contain some icky stuff that can kill or harm if ingested, or harmful insects and, even a snake or rat. The fact is, you would be hard pressed to find anything that won't be harmful if used incorrectly or in the wrong amounts.
If Rotonone has the potential to harm aquatic life, then let's keep it in the garden and not put in in the pond. That is common sense, just like we shouldn't be putting manure in the pond either. Where do you draw the line? If you want to be a purist, then you shouldn't use ANYTHING in your garden and just let nature take it's course.
Rotonone is perfectly safe, organic and a tremendous help when absolutely needed, when in the hands of someone who is responsible and cares for the enviroment. It's been around for many, many decades and I have never heard of anyone or any animal getting sick from it.

    Bookmark   October 23, 2008 at 4:30PM
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Since Rotenone will flow into the lakes and streams with rain water how do you keep it out of the lakes and streams where rain water always flows?

    Bookmark   October 28, 2008 at 7:10AM
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You are reaching here! Rotonone biodegrades very quickly and the likelyhood of rainwater run off contamination is about nil, unless you spray in the rain or happen to have a garden on the banks of a lake or stream. This isn't even an issue. The nitrogen from manure is much more likely to cause lake or stream pollution by run off that Rotonone is. Do you also propose to stop using manure in the garden.
A garden is not a perfect, natural environment that grows untouched and is in a perfectly natural state. When we create a garden, we create an altered environment, and that brings with it problems such as soil depleation, insect population changes, weeds, etc. As gardeners, we need to intervene in the most harmless way possible to correct problems caused by imbalances we create. Anything we do or add to correct imbalances has the potential to cause problems, which is why common sense and good judgement is essential.
If you have a sever problem with harmful insects because of imbalances, you have a choice to make. Do nothing, and lose the crop, or intervene using the safest organic remedys available. Of course, you can introduce beneficial insects to eat the bad bugs, which by the way, causes another imbalance. You can hand pick the little critters too. But chances are you will lose the crop, and the problem will remain. Or us can use a safe, organic remedy like Rotonone sparingly, and then try to lessen the imbalance that cause the problem in the first place.

The Garden Guy

    Bookmark   October 28, 2008 at 10:15AM
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