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Top 10 pests in gardens and landscapes and how to control them

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1. Ants

Most people deal with ants around their home at some point. Because most ants live outdoors, focus efforts on keeping ants from entering buildings by caulking entryways. Follow good sanitation practices to make your home less attractive to ants. Spraying ants inside the home will not prevent more ants from entering. Use baits to control the ant colony. Pesticide baits work by attracting worker ants who then take the poison back to the nest where the entire colony, including queens, can be killed. In the landscape, ants protect honeydew-producing pest insects from predators, so use sticky barriers or insecticide baits to keep ants out of trees and shrubs.


2. Aphids

Aphids can curl leaves and produce sticky honeydew, but they rarely kill plants and you usually can wash them off with water. When aphid numbers get high, natural enemies such as lady beetles (lady bugs), lacewings, syrphid fly larvae, soldier beetles and others frequently feed on them, eliminating the need for pesticides. Protect these good bugs by avoiding the use of insecticides that can be toxic to a broad variety of insects. Ants protect aphids from these natural enemies, so keep ants away from your garden as well. When pesticides are necessary, use less toxic products such as insecticidal soaps and oils.


3. Asian citrus psyllid and Huanglongbing disease

The Asian citrus psyllid (ACP) and the deadly bacterial disease it spreads, Huanglongbing (HLB), threaten citrus trees in backyards and on farms. There is no cure or effective control method for HLB disease.  All types of citrus—including oranges, grapefruit, lemons, and mandarins—are affected as well as a few closely related ornamentals. ACP and HLB have already devastated the Florida citrus industry, and now that it is in the Western U.S. it is threatening the California citrus industry as well.


4. Gophers

Gophers are small burrowing rodents that feed on roots of many types of plants. A single gopher can ruin a garden in a short time, and gopher gnawing can damage irrigation lines and sprinkler systems. In lawns, their mounds are unsightly and interfere with mowing. Early detection is critical to prevent damage. Use both traps and underground fencing to manage gopher problems. Toxic baits are available but can pose threats to wildlife, pets, and children, especially in backyard situations.


5. Leaf-feeding caterpillars

Caterpillars, which are the larvae of butterflies and moths, damage plants by chewing on leaves, flowers, shoots, and fruit. Caterpillars in fruit or wood can be difficult to manage because they are hidden most of their life and can cause serious damage even when numbers are low. However, many plants, especially perennials, can tolerate substantial leaf damage, so a few leaf-feeding caterpillars often aren't a concern. Handpicking and beneficial predators and parasites often provide sufficient control. Look for feeding holes, excrement, webbed or rolled leaves, caterpillars, eggs, and good bugs.


6. Peach leaf curl

Peach leaf curl is a fungal disease that affects only peach and nectarine trees. Distorted, reddened foliage in the spring is a distinctive symptom. New leaves and shoots thicken and pucker and later may die and fall off. An infection that continues untreated for several years can lead to a tree's decline. To prevent peach leaf curl, treat peach and nectarine trees with a copper fungicide every year after leaves fall. After symptoms appear in the spring, any treatment will not be effective. When planting new trees, consider buying peach tree varieties that are resistant to the disease.


7. Rats

Rats eat and contaminate food, garden produce, and fruit, and transmit diseases to humans and pets. Manage rats by removing food and shelter, eliminating entryways into buildings, and trapping. Snap traps are the safest, most effective, and most economical way to trap rats. For Norway rats, place traps close to walls, behind objects, in dark corners, and in places where you have found rat droppings. For roof rats, place traps in off-the-ground locations such as ledges, shelves, branches, fences, pipes, or overhead beams. Ensure traps are out of reach of children and pets.


8. Scales

Scale insects suck plant juices and are pests of many trees and shrubs. Infestations can cause yellowing or premature dropping of leaves, sticky honeydew, and blackish sooty mold. Plant parts can distort or die back, depending on the species and abundance of scales. Most plants tolerate low to moderate numbers of scales. Provide plants with proper cultural care, especially irrigation. Encourage scale predators such as lady beetles or lacewings and look for parasite emergence holes in scale covers. Use sticky barriers or insecticide baits to selectively control scale-tending ants. Consider replacing problem-prone plants because most scales are highly specific to certain plants.


9. Snails and slugs

These slimy mollusks emerge from hiding at night and chew holes in leaves and flowers of many succulent garden plants and fruit. Management requires a vigilant and integrated approach that includes eliminating moisture and hiding spots, trapping, setting up barriers, and handpicking. Regularly remove snails from shelters you can't eliminate such as low ledges on fences, undersides of decks, and meter boxes. Place traps in your garden and dispose of trapped snails and slugs daily. Reduce moist surfaces by switching to drip irrigation or watering in the morning rather than later in the day. Consider snail-proof plants such as impatiens, geraniums, begonias, lantana, nasturtiums, and many plants with stiff leaves and highly scented foliage such as sage, rosemary, and lavender.


10. Weeds in landscapes

Prevent weed invasions in new beds with good site preparation. Keep weeds out with an integrated program that includes competitive plants, mulches, and hand removal. Be particularly vigilant about removing aggressive perennial weeds. You rarely should need herbicides in established landscape plantings. Mulches prevent weed seed germination by blocking sunlight. Remove small weeds by hand before they flower and set seed. Use shallow cultivation or hoeing to remove annual weeds from ornamental plantings. Only use herbicides for special-problem situations before establishing new plantings or for difficult-to-control perennial weeds.


To see all of the University of California's Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program's information on home, garden, and landscape pests, visit

For other short pest “Quick Tips” like the ten above, see

 To read even more in-depth, peer-reviewed information on many other common home and landscape pests in California, see the Pest Notes series at

Download your free UC IPM Quick Tips Booklet of the Top Ten Pests in Gardens and Landscapes and How to Control Them with the link below! 

Posted on Friday, June 10, 2016 at 12:30 PM
  • Author: Tyler Ash

Gardens in Schools? What a Concept!

This past year I was involved with a process in Vallejo called “Participatory Budgeting”.   A mouthful which basically means, we citizens got to participate in how a small portion of the City’s budget is spent.  Specifically, this small portion is a percentage of the larger Measure B tax that we voted on a few years ago – we voted to tax ourselves, 1¢ of every $1 spent.  What a good idea that we get to have a say in how at least part of it is spent!

And one project that was proposed for some of this money to be spent on, voted on by citizens and approved by the City, was enhancing current community gardens and creating new ones.  Does everyone know about this?  As citizens of Vallejo you absolutely should!  As citizens of Solano County it would be nice if you did, even though it doesn’t necessarily impact you directly.

But as Master Gardeners, we should ALL be aware of this great accomplishment – getting funds directed toward enhancing and creating more gardens in the community!  However, the challenge now is, how does this get implemented?   That will be a long and somewhat tedious process no doubt and every garden that will be enhanced or created will be a wonderful thing.

However, my original thought when I first heard about this project was putting these gardens in schools.  Not only would it teach children very valuable lessons, but if the gardens could grow to have a significant yield, they could provide food for school lunches!   There are a variety of benefits that could come from creating gardens in schools, but it always comes down to funding. 

I didn’t write this with a grand plan in mind, nor do I expect some major change to occur.  But if a few of us ponder this idea, perhaps we can think of creative ways to help this happen in our schools, no matter where those schools reside.  Anyone even remotely interested in gardening could help make these ideas reality.  After all, one of the best lessons that children can learn is that great-tasting food can come from something they planted with their own two hands.   Not sure if this is a real quote, but it’s similar to the one about fish …. “If you give a man a vegetable you feed him for a day. If you teach a man to garden you feed him for a lifetime”

Cal Maritime Cadet & Community Engagement Student Assistant, Natalie Laconsay, at Loma Vista’s Spring Festival.(photo by Mike Jory/Vallejo Times Herald)
Cal Maritime Cadet & Community Engagement Student Assistant, Natalie Laconsay, at Loma Vista’s Spring Festival.(photo by Mike Jory/Vallejo Times Herald)

Posted on Friday, September 20, 2013 at 8:22 AM

Mosquito management for ponds, fountains and water gardens

Mosquito larvae must come to the surface to breathe air through abdominal siphons. Photo by Jack Kelly Clark.
Many gardeners are adding fountains, ponds, and other water features to their landscapes. Water gardens are beautiful and calming, but, if not managed properly, can add an unpleasant element to the landscape—mosquitoes. How can you help prevent mosquito infestations?

Mosquitoes can be managed using an integrated approach that relies mostly on prevention, using biological and chemical controls when necessary. The key strategy is to eliminate all potential breeding sites; even one ounce of standing water can support a population of larvae. What can be done, however, when an outdoor space contains a water element? Here are a few tips.

Water features in the landscape will invariably attract adult mosquitoes, but attempting to control them or prevent their egg laying is difficult. Larvae are easier to manage, since they are concentrated in known areas, don't yet bite, and can't fly away. Larvae prefer shallow water that is less than 24 inches deep, so install water features that are deeper than 2 feet. Ponds or features that provide a steep slope or have vertical walls that quickly drop off into deep water will also be less favorable to mosquitoes. Adding a fountain, waterfall, or other device increases water circulation and reduces the stagnation that allows mosquitoes to breed.

Remove excess vegetation and organic debris that provide mosquito larvae with food, shelter from the sun, and hiding places from predators.

In natural environments, bacteria, nematodes, other insects, crustaceans, and fish often keep numbers of mosquito larvae low. Conserve predators such as dragonflies and backswimmers, which may have colonized ponds, by avoiding broad-spectrum insecticides and consider introducing fish. County vector control services may provide free mosquito fish, voracious consumers of mosquito larvae and pupae. Never release mosquito fish into natural water bodies, since these fish aren't native to California and can disrupt ecosystems.

Although these measures will prevent problems in most cases, mosquito larvae may still develop in some ponds.

In gardens with lots of plants growing in still water, it may be impossible to keep mosquitoes from breeding. Regularly check water features for larvae, which periodically come to the surface to breathe through abdominal siphons Watch for the larvae's characteristic wriggling movement, or use fine dip nets to monitor for larvae. It is important to act quickly to kill mosquitoes when they are small, easiest to manage, and before they become adults and start biting.

Larvicides containing spores or metabolites of the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis (Bti) (e.g., Mosquito Dunks, Mosquito Bits, Microbe-Lift, and other products) act as stomach poisons when ingested, killing larvae within a few days. Bti affects only fly larvae, so it won't harm predatory insects living in the pond or water feature. Another effective larvicide is the insect growth regulator (IGR) methoprene (e.g., Pre-strike Torpedos). IGRs interfere with larval molting and also take a few days to kill, but they have a broader spectrum of activity, affecting most juvenile insects and other arthropods that might be in the pond. Both Bti and methoprene are available as granules or pellets, remain effective for about a month, and as with all pesticides, should be used only according to label directions.

For more information about mosquitoes, visit

This article by Andrew Sutherland, UCCE advisor in the San Francisco Bay Area and UC Statewide IPM Program, was originally published in the June 2013 issue of the Retail Nursery and Garden Center IPM News. Read the entire article at 

Posted on Friday, July 12, 2013 at 3:41 PM
  • Author: Andrew Sutherland
Tags: Andrew Sutherland (4), gardens (8), Mosquitoes (28)

Intimate Gardens

On May 19th I had the distinct pleasure of seeing the eight gardens listed in the 2013 Vallejo Garden Tour.  My focus was on intimate gardens, places where one could do some quiet reflection or meditation or to talk quietly with an intimate other. 

Of course, there is an ornamental and utilitarian (such as veggies and cut flowers) side to gardens, and there was plenty to be seen along those lines.  But looking at gardens from the “quiet reflection” point of view gave me purpose and a framework from which to look, not to mention inspiration for creating my own.  And I found plenty of what I was looking for. 

Many of the gardens had special places, some sun-drenched, and some inviting filtered light, and often with the sound backdrop of a wonderful fountain, with a seemingly unlimited array of styles and sounds.  In fact,

I found many interesting water features, including a waterfall in one corner of a small backyard garden, cascading down a 6-foot slope.  At that same location, creeping fig (Ficus pumila) nicely covered what might otherwise be an unsightly wall of concrete block.

What inspired me was the combined plantings of perennials and annuals often as an understory of larger shrubs and trees.  There were countless Japanese Maples (Acer palmatum), one of my favorites for color and form.  And clumps of geraniums (Pelargonium), meticulously placed for their shady or sunny locations, often with lush splashes of ferns.

And interspersed among the foliage and color were interesting statuary and other “garden art objects”, too many to detail here, but very fitting with the intimacy of each location. 

A favorite ground cover was Blue Star Creeper (Isotoma fluviatilis), which can take sun and fill in nicely between pavers, adding to the feel of a softly carpeted area.

All in all, it was a gorgeous day, and I came away inspired to use much of what I saw as ideas to create my own quiet garden space.

photos by Bud Veliquette
photos by Bud Veliquette

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IMG 1060

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IMG 1062

Posted on Wednesday, May 29, 2013 at 9:55 AM

Spring at The Gardens at Heather Farm

During my teenage years, the head lifeguard at the pool that I volunteered at, used to bring a group of us teenagers to picnic and swim at Heather Farm in Walnut Creek each summer.  As such, I have always associated Heather Farm with those memories, not realizing that Heather Farm also included a beautiful 6-acre garden, which I had the pleasure of visiting recently.

Like The Ruth Bancroft Garden that I blogged about recently (also in Walnut Creek, just minutes from The Gardens at Heather Farm), Heather Farm Park and The Gardens at Heather Farm were named after the original ranch located on the very site, and fancifully, the ranch owners' prized race horse, King Heather.  There are 20+ gardens of varying sizes and themes in all, managed completely without the use of pesticides.  To give you an idea as to what you should expect to see and experience, the following is a list of gardens/plots on site: The Ruth Howard Entrance Garden, Native Plant Garden, Diablo Ascent Garden, Tree Grove, Ash Tree Alley, Stroll Garden, Meadow Garden, Heritage Garden, Mother’s Garden, Black Pine Garden, Ward Garden, Cowden Rose Garden, Waterfall Garden, Rockery, Butterfly Garden, Mural Garden, Children’s Garden, Riparian Garden, Water Conservation Garden, Sensory Garden, and the Blue Star Memorial Garden.

Some highlights of The Gardens include the very beautiful and showy Cowden Rose Garden that takes center stage the moment you enter The Gardens (Tip: now is a great time when everything is in bloom!).  Equally beautiful, but more understated, is the shade garden.  There is a section for California native plants, a tree grove, and a small patch which integrates edible plants with ornamentals—always one of my perennial favorites.

With how beautiful and well-maintained The Gardens is, it is hard to believe that the grounds are managed by a volunteer-based nonprofit employing a small part-time staff.  It would seem that an army would be necessary to maintain the site as well as they do.  

Now is a wonderful time to visit as most everything appears to be in bloom. So on one of those warm afternoons where you are at a loss for ideas of what to do, where to go, consider packing a picnic lunch and visiting The Gardens at Heather located at 1540 Marchbanks Drive, Walnut Creek, California.  For more information, see   

photos by Betty Homer
photos by Betty Homer





Posted on Thursday, May 16, 2013 at 9:11 AM

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