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Ottawa, ON
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Get Them Before They Get You

When the weather starts progressively getting warmer, one cannot help but to start getting excited about seeing their plants return in their gardens. However, with the plants come the bugs. With our warmer winters, that are not freezing our soils deep enough bellow the frost line; more bugs are now capable of overwintering and returning for another year of destruction in your garden. You cannot have one without the other, unfortunately. Instead of waiting for them to pick their next meal; it's time to pick your poison (organically speaking). Start setting some homemade traps and whipping up the potions for the meet - and - greet with the enemy. Remember to smile…your getting away with murder! Don't worry, with these tips you will only be getting away with killing the bad bugs. Based on experience, the most common pests that drive gardeners insane in the spring are: Aphids, Eastern tent caterpillars, Earwigs, Slugs and rabbits. Here we go!


Aphids:

Description: Tiny soft-bodied insects commonly found at the tip of tender new growth of plants in large masses. Some have wings and others do not.
Colour: Red, blue, green, orange, grey or black.
Damage: Will suck the nutrients out of the plants' new growth causing the tips to become contorted and often die. Their excretement forms a residue called "honeydew" which attracts ants. Aphids move from plant to plant which spreads disease by their sucking mouth parts penetrating the vascular tissue to feed.
Natural Predators: Ladybugs and Lacewings

CONTROL: Because natural predators take longer to develop in numbers big enough to control aphid populations. An immediate solution is to blast them off using enough pressure from the nozzle of the hose to remove them but to not hurt the plant. This will help to control the numbers until natural predator reap their carnage. A good natural homemade potion is to mix 1 tsp. dish soap with 1 liter of water into a spray bottle; shake and spray. You can buy a similar organic product called "Safer's Horticultural Soap". This works like a charm, but is more costly than the homemade version.
 

Eastern Tent Caterpillars:

Description: Larvae are hairy caterpillars, black with white stripe down the back and brown and yellow stripes down the side with blue spots. Nests in trees.
Colour: Larvae are brown, yellow, blue and black while the adult moth is tan and brown.
Damage: In groups large enough, they can completely defoliate a tree and their nests are quite unsightly especially if there are more than one present.
Natural Predators: Wasps, birds and serious gardeners.

CONTROL: These little defoliators eat during the day and return to their nest at night. The best time to remove the nest from the tree is just after dusk; when they are all home; otherwise you end up with just the nest. You must then burn the nest or treat it with Baccillus Thuringiensis var. kurstaki which is a biological control for worms. Hand picking them is only effective if you can round up enough of them.
 

Earwig:

Description: shiny and flat with pincers, (caudal forceps), at its bottom end. Hides in dark, moist crevices.
Colour: Dark red-brown
Damage: Ragged, irregular holes in leaves, flowers and fruits
Natural Predators: Toads and birds.

CONTROL: Outside, earwigs can be collected in a piece of corrugated cardboard after leaving it out overnight and then disposing of it in the morning.
 

Slugs:

Description: Long, slender, slimy bodies hiding in dark, damp areas of the garden.
Colour: Light brown to tan.
Damage: Large, irregular holes in fleshy foliage with noticeable "slimy trail". Feeds at night when temperatures are cooler to retain its high percentage of water. Most of the damage is done in beds that are watered over-head leaving both the foliage and soil wet.
Natural Predators: Birds, ground beetles and frogs.

CONTROL: Hand picking when discovered is a start. In the spring, cultivate your garden beds to expose eggs to the air to dry out. Beer traps are also very effective, however, they do require cleaning and re-filling. Diatomaceous earth has been used however, results are varied. The best thing to do is to use slug - resistant varieties of plants.
 

Rabbits:

Description: Cute, furry, tiny cotton tail and giant teeth that chew really well.
Color: Brown with white patch on tail.
Damage: Chewed bark on ornamental shrubs and trees from winter feeding and by spring they eat the tender new growth of select perennials and budding foliage of tulips.
Natural Predators: Cats, dogs, coyotes, etc... (what isn't?).

CONTROL: Aside from traps, the biological methods are limited. Chicken wire around tender new plant foliage is only required until leaves toughen. A cat will deter rabbits simply by it's' presence. Once again the advice is to avoid planting anything they tend to favor.


As a final thought, please be advised that these are only recommended suggestions, and that they will not be as successful in some areas as others. Taking the organic route requires a more trial-and-error mentality in combination with a lot of patience. The benefit of taking this route is knowing that you are helping in keeping the delicate balance of our eco-system. With a healthy balance of prey and predators, our environment can thrive and in the end so may we.

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