Just outside your door (preferably) lives an infinite variety of insect life, much of it beneficial and to be encouraged. A charmingly illustrated book called Good Bugs for your Garden, by Allison Mia Starche, is a useful guide to the principal players. Among them:
-Dragonflies, which breed in water but can range a long way from water sources in their hunt for prey (flies and mosquitoes).
-Praying Mantis, which will eat just about any insect smaller than themselves.
-Assassin Bugs, which include Japanese beetles and tomato hornworms among their prey.
-Big-eyed Bugs, which go after a variety of insect eggs, mites, aphids and leafhoppers.
-Spined Soldier Bugs, which feed on caterpillars and grubs of Mexican bean beetle and Colorado potato beetle.
-Thrips, which include bad thrips (which eat plants) and good thrips, which eat other thrips as well as the eggs of corn earworms, peach borers, whiteflies, leaf miner flies and scale insect.
And then there are lacewings, beetles, bees, wasps, any number of flies (many of them masquerading as bees and wasps), spiders, mites and beneficial nematodes – a veritable army that can work with you to keep pests under control.
DIY SPRAYS Still, there are times when the gardener just wants an infestation to be gone. Ed Lawrence, the CBC Radio gardening guru, recommends soap and water as effective on aphids and spider mites - 40 parts water to 1 part liquid soap (not detergent), which converts to 1 tablespoon or half an ounce of soap in a 20-ounce spray bottle. Add 8 parts rubbing alcohol to penetrate the waxy protection of mealy bug or scale. A friend has a pungent concoction, aimed at encouraging pests to dine elsewhere: Boil a few chopped garlic cloves, three or four hot peppers and a dash of vegetable oil in two quarts of water. Strain into a spray bottle. Spray the mixture on the affected foliage, being careful to coat the underside.
PEAT POTS Peat (or coir) pots are used so as not to disturb the root system when transplanting. The idea is to bury the pot in the soil so it will decompose as the plant grows through it. A problem can arise if the rim of the pot pokes above ground, dries out and then wicks the dryness into the root area, robbing the plant of moisture. Guard against this by tearing off any extraneous pieces, making sure the pot is completely buried.
DEADHEADING The goal of flowering plants is to produce seed, and once they’ve achieved that, their job is done and they don’t feel the need to flower any more. So, to prolong the display, the gardener needs to wander around every day snipping off spent blooms and prevent the plant from going to seed. It’s a pleasant task.