Monday, May 31, 2010

Aphid Death

Since we bought our house two years ago, I have attempted to make all of my gardening organic, natural and sustainable and have had mixed results on all fronts. To be honest, I have never really tried using chemicals or pesticides on plants so I have no real experience with how much better or worse my natural and/or organic methods are than conventional gardening, only which natural/organic methods work and which do not. For all I know, I am battling Goliaths that agri-farming hasn't seen in decades. If so, I can only hope that my heirloom, pesticide free fruits & veggies taste better and help me live longer, and that all this isn't in vain!
    Anyway, in addition to my herb, fruit & veggie garden, we have a full yard of all sorts of plants leftover from the previous owner. My favorite is the towering magnolia tree who I am most impressed by after seeing the FEMA records on our home and knowing that she was quite a few feet under salt water on at least a dozen occasions and yet she keeps on plugging on strong. A close second in my romantic Southern fantasy garden (I dream it will look like the gardens in Charleston one day and I have desperately planted a half dozen hydrangeas out my back steps in the hopes that they will one day cascade heady blooms over the rail of my porch... the sandy soil and extreme heat have succeeded in keeping them only about a foot high and two feet wide for two years... a girl can dream, can't she?) are the two fabulous gardenias that flank my raised bed garden. But, the bane of my existence, are the aphids who frequent said gardenias like they are a biker bar serving free liquor. Last year I spent the entire summer (and it's a long one in Florida) spraying both plants daily with a diluted mixture of dish soap & water and the results were minimal to say the least. This year, while wandering around Lowe's on a paint color scouting trip, I saw that Ortho (the usual pesticide folks) also had an EcoSense line and that they touted their Insceticidal Soap as able to stop aphids in their tracks.
    On May 12th, I started an experiment to see which was better: my dishwashing mix or the insecticidal soap. Was this $5 spray bottle full of nothing more than what I was mixing up myself at home? Or was there a secret to what made the little buggers fly away and never return that I hadn't mastered yet? Anyway, I was going to spray one bush with insecticidal soap and one with my dishwashing mix (I didn't have a control... my apologies, it's a small garden) and see who did the best after two weeks. My experiment stopped after Day Two, the insecticidal soap won. Hands down. No contest, no second judge... my dishwashing mix was a pitiful pop-gun compared to the bazooka of the insecticidal soap.
Now, I know $5 a bottle is pricey (and I hate that there weren't any refills available at my store or even online it seems) so the waste potential is enormous. I have two good size (4ft wide x 4 ft tall) gardenia bushes and I generously coated them on the top and bottom of EVERY leaf until the tree was pretty much dripping with soap. The one bottle, with this level of coverage for two bushes, only lasted me one use. Thankfully, the aphids stayed away for nearly a week before I had to use a second bottle to try again. That lasted just as long, but then my husband did some overzealous pruning and cut both gardenias way back and the aphids haven't returned, so I'm not sure if the weather changed somehow to run them off or if the pruning cut back on their numbers. Either way, I am happy!
    Previously, with my dishwashing soap solution, I would spray the tree off with water (to disturb the aphids and encourage a lot of them to fly away) and then coat each leaf just as thoroughly with the soap solution. The next day the aphids would be much fewer (as you can see from the first photo of the gardenia above, the plant was just lousy with them. They would rise in great plumes when you rustled the leaves and even took off and started eating my tomato plants, which I didn't even know they liked!) But there was never a real elimination of the aphids, just a decrease in their general numbers. I got so angry toward the end of the summer and I was so ruthless toward the little buggers, my husband started to make fun of me (hence the title, "Aphid Death," though I still maintain that would make a great band name for the right group...). The next day after spraying the insecticidal soap, the aphids were gone. Not one little flying creature for an entire week!
    Overall, I give it 3 stars out of 5. Now, I can't in good conscience give this product too many stars because #1. The packaging is so small (even for a spray bottle, it's a small spray bottle) and doesn't appear to have refill available to reuse the bottle; #2. Though the company statement says:
“Formulated with specially selected active ingredients, Ortho® EcoSense™ Brand* offers sensible effective solutions for insect control, plant disease and rose care. Kill bugs and control disease to help flowers, vegetables and roses thrive.”
I feel like (and perhaps it is just the environmental skeptic in me) that this product can't be 100% natural when coming from Scotts/Ortho brand who makes their living on lush, chemical laden lawns at all costs (though, to be fair, I couldn't find any compelling evidence one way or the other that this branch of the company was actually "green." All the reviews I found were far more anecdotal than scientific). Otherwise, I love this product for the results I had. I was so frustrated by aphids and this completely eliminate my problem. Now, if your aphid infestation is not that bad, the dishwashing soap trick may work for you (two tablespoons liquid dish soap in a spray bottle and fill the rest with water) and save you a bundle of cash in the process. But for the length of my frustration, this product is currently well worth the money for me... now if I could just find it in a larger bottle...

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