As with any other organic life form, groundcovers can experience problems with insects. As human beings, who watch these insects visit our plants, the question becomes: To kill, or not to kill. Sometimes, spraying a broad spectrum insecticide can actually do more harm than good when beneficial insects are killed in the process. So, when we see a bug on our groundcover plants, we should first attempt to identify the type of insect to then determine whether it's harmful or beneficial insect.
If you see a ladybug on the leaf of a plant in your garden it's probably busy feasting on aphids, which are harmful insects. So, as you can see, identification of an insect can be very important. The work ladybugs do for you in your garden can save you time, money and effort spent on spraying chemicals.
Regarding most types of groundcover plants, there aren't many insects that do a whole lot of damage. The most harmful insects are often the ones you cant see; either they are too small (mites), or they're hiding out on the undersides of leaves (aphids). These insects tend to camp out for a while. On the other hand, most insects are here today and gone tomorrow, without doing a bit of harm. Japanese beetles can be a problem during summer in certain areas of the country, particularly the South. These beatles can hang around for weeks or months chewing away at foliage and flowers on some of your most desirable plants.
Controlling Insects in Groundcover Plantings
Inspect your groundcovers from time to time and watch for signs of insect infestation or disease onset. For example, yellowing growth on groundcover junipers can be an indicator for spider mites. Chlorosis (yellowing of leaves) on broadleaf plants could be an indicator for aphids or lacebugs. Stripping of foliage is most likely caterpillars.
After identifying the insect as a harmful one, spray with an appropriate product. To avoid problems, follow all label directions carefully, and make sure your plant is listed on the label. The best method for application is a pump or squirt bottle sprayer, or a hose-end sprayer for large plantings of groundcover.
Types of Chemicals
There are several generally safe products for use to control common insects and/or diseases on plants. I like using products containing Neem oil (azadirachtin). Neem oil is a safe product that acts as a feeding repellent that can prevent attack by many types of pests and diseases. It also can affect the growth and development of some pests which may suppress problems. Susceptibility to neem varies greatly among different insect species so check the label careflly to be sure that it covers pests that you are trying to manage.
If Neem oil won't get the job, I usually turn to pyrethrins. Pyrethrins are very broad spectrum insecticides, which are also safe to use. They attack the nervous system of almost all insects and other arthropods, including spiders and mites. Pyrethrins are very effective as contact sprays but are deactivated very quickly by sunlight, moisture, and air so no residue is left behind.
If neither neem oil or pyrethrins will get the job done you can try sevin or malathion.
When spraying a large patch of groundcover plants, it may be necessary to use a hose-end type sprayer to reach the entire area with spray. Always follow instructions on the package label for mixing and application methods.
- Keep both neem oil and pyrethrin insecticides in your garden shed or storeroom, and malathion and/or sevin if you must.
- Own two types of good sprayers: A pump-type and a hose-end type. Pump sprayers are good for spraying easy-to-reach plants. Hose-end sprayers are good for spraying large areas or up into taller trees.