Protecting container garden plants pests

Protecting container garden plants pests

New research from the University of Nottingham says once we learn how to identify the key predators of a plant pest, we can devise new and more effective ways of protecting our plant crops and vegetables. The team, led by Professor Jeremy Thomas, has designed methods to identify the pest in a particular garden at the same time as measuring the predatory and parasitic impacts of these creatures on the pest. The research will be published in the scientific journal PLOS One.

Feeding on the vegetables and fruit crops we grow in the UK are several types of bug. Two of the most damaging, the black and white sticky bug and aphid, feed on leaves and stems and can cause both aesthetic damage as well as weakening the plants, eventually killing them if their damage is extreme.

In addition, the aphids and black and white sticky bug can also host viruses that spread to other plants and endanger our valuable crops. However, being able to identify these creatures in a garden is not a simple task. By its very nature, the sight of an aphid with its huge mouth full of tiny ‘sugar plants’ is something we want to avoid. And on a hot summer day, in a damp garden, one has to distinguish between aphids and the tiny biting bugs, the Homalodisca).

Homalodisca rutilana on rose

However, new research from the University of Nottingham has identified an important tool in our gardening armoury. By using a range of microscopy techniques it has been possible to use carefully chosen mathematical techniques to identify and compare various insects and other pests in their environment. This will help us identify exactly which type of insect we are looking at, whether this is something that has gone to an allergic reaction and is leaving white lesions on our plant leaves or is a black and white sticky bug that has been sucking the sap out of our leaves. In both cases, our response will be the same – we would get rid of the problem!

Using a microscope, the scientists have developed a key piece of kit that can be bought in gardening shops and online stores such as Amazon and Wickes. These kits, which are designed to capture specific insects and identify them, will be more effective in protecting our valuable crops than sprays or oil based products that simply kill bugs.

Professor Jeremy Thomas is the University’s Canada professor for Biological Sciences and was part of the team that designed the kit, which also contains a ‘trap’ that captures the pests so they can be identified. He says: “I think it is important to realise that having a good idea of the pest you are dealing with is the first step to getting rid of them.

“Many insect control products are based on formulae that are 80 years old and there is a tendency in the industry to keep on using these old products as the better products based on the same approach are slow to take off.”

Current treatment options are mainly sprays, which can kill pests without causing serious damage to plants, or oil based products, which provide only a temporary solution. There is still a long way to go in improving current ways of treating plant diseases, but this research and the resulting new kit represent an important advance in knowledge and are a real step towards developing new and more effective pest control solutions.

I had never heard of plant pests that chew on leaves and stems, but having seen my garden look pretty dull and in decline the past few years, I may have to go to the insectary or at least to Amazon to buy the kit you describe. I did have one tip for getting rid of aphids that I was going to try tomorrow (Wednesday): wait till it is night, turn out all the lights, and put some disco lights on your plants.


February 22, 2014 at 12:18 pm

Hello James,

Thanks for your message. Yes, I had heard of the black and white sticky bug and the aphid, but not the Homalodisca. It’s my understanding that in a healthy garden the Homalodisca can be controlled by the gardener just by hosing down the plants, so that shouldn’t be a problem. However, the Homalodisca has a tendency to live near windows and doors and may invade houses during cool spring and fall

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