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Pest Management in South Florida Landscapes – Part I

South Florida is a hot spot for bugs, who thrive in the sunshine state’s hot and humid climate. In fact, Florida is often ranked as the #1 state for pest problems in the country. But fear not. By following our blog series on pest management, pests will be little more than an occasional annoyance in your South Florida Landscape.

At Sugar Green gardens we follow Integrated pest management, or IPM, to minimize pests and pesticide use. IPM emphasizes a broad approach that manages pests with multiple methods instead of rushing to pesticide usage. We only use pesticides as a last resort, as they come with costs to human health and the environment.

Avoiding Pests

The key to integrated pest management is prevention. For gardeners this means using pest-resistant plants and providing appropriate watering and fertilization.

The prevention checklist:

  • Place plants in areas that meet that species’ light, moisture, and soil requirements. When conditions are not ideal, plants become stressed, making them more susceptible to pests.

  • Buy plants that are pest-resistant and pest-free. Native plants are usually more pest-resistant than exotics, though there are some exotic varieties that are bred to resist certain pests.

  • Regularly observe your plants to detect pest problems early.

  • Appropriate watering and fertilization. Too little or too much of either can stress your plants. Excessive growth makes your plants more vulnerable to pests.

  • Mow and prune selectively. Mowing grass too short or excessively pruning trees and shrubs weakens them.

  • Encourage beneficial insects. Many insects prevent pests from taking over by feeding on them. These include bees, dragonflies, spiders, and ladybugs.

Dragonflies are the animal world's most effective hunters. Having them in your backyard is an excellent sign that your plants will remain pest-free.

Detecting Pest Problems

You should try to inspect your plants when you do any outdoor chores. Common signs to look for include chewed or deformed leaves, sooty mold, many ants scurrying up and down plants, and discolored plant segments.

Carefully inspects branches and the undersides of leaves for pests that attach to the plant, such as whitefly nymphs. Sooty mold is a telltale sign of infestation by piercing-sucking insects, which pierce plants with their mouth and suck the sap. Ants are also a signal of pierce-sucking pests as they feed on the sap that they harvest.

Sometimes you will see signs of an infestation but no active pests. This could mean that beneficial insects have fed on the pests, triggering a hiding response.

Whitefly nymphs are a common south florida pest.

Treating Pest Problems

Integrated pest management only uses hazardous chemicals as a last resort. Here are pest management techniques we use to prevent pesticide use.

The treatment checklist

  • Remove affected plant parts. If pests are concentrated on certain parts of the plant you can reduce the problem by removing the affected leaves or stems.

  • Remove insects. This only works with large, slow-moving pests, such as caterpillars. Dispose of them by dropping them in soapy water and placing them in the freezer overnight in a plastic bag.

  • Apply low-impact products. Insecticidal soap, botanicals, microbials, and horticultural oils are less harmful than pesticides and can be equally effective. Our next blog post goes into greater detail on these solutions and when to deploy them.

  • Spot-treat. If you need to apply pesticides only treat the affected areas of the plant. Never liberally apply pesticides.

  • Apply pesticides at cooler times of day. When combined with heat, pesticides can injure plants.

Thanks for reading! Our next post will specify what treatments to use for specific pests.

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