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What pests that commonly wreak havoc on Butler County gardens

Summer time and the living is easy, just not for Butler County gardeners dealing with exploding populations of insect pests munching on their flower and vegetable gardens.

Shelly BouSamra, a Penn State Extension Master Gardener who’s pursuing a graduate degree in entomology, said there are a lot of common pests out there this summer.

BouSamra said, “There are so many to choose from! Japanese beetles, their pupae are now deep in the soil and will be adults by the end of June. They will skeletonize leaves to the stem or trunk and they are not picky eaters.”

Master Gardener Shelly BouSamra shows off her BugZooka, one of her weapons in the fight against summer’s insect pests. Eric Freehling/Special to the Eagle

She also mentioned aphids whose piercing sucking mouth parts damage plants when they are feeding, squash bugs that destroy young squash and pumpkin plants and also carry bacteria in their saliva which will kill plants and squash vine borers — a day-flying moth that bores into vines and lays eggs.

“The larvae will eat through the vine, disrupting the xylem, leaving the plant open to disease,” she said.

For Japanese beetles, BouSamra recommends removing the pests by hand or with a bug vacuum such as a BugZooka in the early morning and dropping the beetles in soapy water.

She noted Japanese beetles mate at the end of the summer with their eggs dropping to the ground and hatching into grubs.

“You can treat with milky spore (a naturally occurring bacterial disease lethal to Japanese beetle grubs) in the late summer/fall, but it takes a long time to get established. You can also use insecticides if absolutely needed.”

For aphids, she recommends spraying them off plants with a jet of water, using an insecticidal soap or encouraging natural predators such as ladybugs.


“Ladybugs are voracious consumers of aphids, spiders eat them and ants farm them,” she said.

For squash bugs, BouSamra said prevention of population build-up is best. Suggestions included to practice crop rotation, clean up squash debris at the end of summer, avoid thick layers of mulch, cover plants until blossoming, delay planting until early summer.

“Once squash bugs show up, remove eggs, nymphs and adults by hand. Lay a board trap and check early in the morning for nymphs and adults underneath.”

The same methods work for squash vine borers. She recommends planting squash earlier so plants are bigger when adult squash vine borers are present. Gardeners can apply barriers to egg-laying at the base of the plant. Larvae can be physically removed from plants and killed.

“Personally we handle a lot of slugs. They are leaf eaters and pretty damaging,” said Mary Inakavadze, the yard manager at City Landscape Supply in Butler.

She recommends Epsom salts for slug control.

“Sprinkle the plants. Epsom salts adds minerals to the earth and it burns the slugs,” she said.

Shane Harding, the controller at Ritenour Custom Lawncare in Connoquenessing Township, said plants aren’t the only targets this summer.

“Mosquitoes and ticks are on the increase. Unfortunately, ticks are easily transferrable to pets and humans they may come into contact with,” said Harding. “This spring’s heavy rains left a lot of standing water for mosquitoes to breed. And the warmer winter is another reason for the mosquito population. There was no long cold spell to kill off the mosquitoes, ticks too.”

He said his company can provide fertilization and weed control applications to deal with ticks and mosquitoes.

This undated photo shows a blacklegged tick, also known as a deer tick, a carrier of Lyme disease. CDC via AP

BouSamra said ticks lurk in vegetation most often in the verge between woods and yards looking to drop off on an animal or human that brushes against the plants. After a female tick gorges on the blood of its carrier it will drop off and lay up to 1,000 eggs.

She said ticks can pass Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever to humans so precautions need to be taken.

“It’s important when hiking to wear long pants, long socks,” BouSamra said. After being outside, check for ticks that may have attached themselves to your pet or your own body.

No cicada brood

One thing gardeners in Butler County won’t have to worry about this year despite all the media reports is an unprecedented population explosion is cicadas, according to BouSamra.

“There are two types of cicadas in Pennsylvania, annual and periodical,” she said. “Annual cicadas come very year, so we will have them as usual. They are green or black with black or brown eyes.

“Periodic cicadas have a life cycle of either 13 or 17 years and are black with red eyes. The last periodic cicada brood in Pennsylvania was 2021. The next one is due in 2030,” said BouSamra.

“’Cicada-mania is going on this year because the 17-year brood in Illinois and the north Midwest is coinciding with the 13-year brood in the southeast. The geographical areas in between could see some of both broods,” she said.

The Master Gardner recommends what she calls integrated pest management, a combination approach of preventative measures such as surveillance, mechanical and biological control and chemical applications as a last resort.

“We start with prevention practices, (crop rotation, companion planting, starting with healthy plants) and monitoring the population with goal of control, not eradication,” she said.

If the insect pest population reaches an unacceptable level, more direct control measures include physical removal of plants by either hand, trusty BugZooka or a jet of water; setting up netting or fencing barriers; setting up traps; or encouraging natural predators such as ladybugs, praying mantis, wasps or spiders.

BouSamra said insecticides should be a last resort and should be applied with a strict adherence to directions once the pest is correctly identified. Overuse of pesticides leads to resistance in targeted insects and harm to beneficial insects such as pollinators and the surrounding environment.

Still, BouSamra warned even the most diligent gardener is never going to win a war against insect invaders.

“You are never going to get rid of all garden pests,” she said. “That’s just impossible. You try to control the population so it’s not detrimental to what you are trying to grow.”

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