April 3, 2011

Maine Gardener: Website puts gardening fixes at your fingertips

By Tom Atwell tatwell@mainetoday.com
Staff Writer

Gardening season is about two weeks away, and let me tell you right now: You are going to have some problems.

I am not psychic, I am not pessimistic, and I am not trying to discourage you.

I am being realistic.

Gardening is done outdoors, and the problem with the outdoors is that there are bugs, animals, diseases and even plants that want to attack your fruit, flower and vegetable plants. And you are going to have to deal with those pests.

But dealing with them just got a little easier.

The state has a new website -- www.gotpests.org -- that will help you figure out what is causing your garden problems and what to do about it.

The website is a joint project of the Maine Board of Pesticides Control, the University of Maine Cooperative Extension Service, the Maine Department of Agriculture, the Maine Forest Service and the Maine Integrated Pest Management Council. It was introduced to the public at the Portland Flower Show last month.

"Homeowner education is our top priority," said Ron Lemin Jr., chairman of the Maine Integrated Pest Management Council. "They aren't getting enough information about pests and pesticides."

The site is really simple to use. If you know the name of the pest, you can type it in and be sent to a variety of articles about that pest.

If you don't know what kind of pest you have, you can click on either where the pest is found -- home, lawns and yards, trees and shrubs, flowers, fruit, vegetables or people and pets -- or what kind of pest it is -- weed, plant disease, bug or other critter.

"We searched all over the Internet for the best information," said Kathy Murray, coordinator of the IPM Council. "We wanted to make it easy for anyone to see really good, clear images."

Murray said that even though the website is designed for homeowners, she finds that the links at gotpests.org are often the quickest ways for her as a professional to find pictures or information she needs.

For that reason, she thinks it will be useful for landscapers and lawn workers looking for solutions.

Right at the top of the home page are quick links to popular pests, including bedbugs, invasive pests, ticks and so on.

The site is based on the principles of integrated pest management, described on the site as "a decision-making process that combines practical pest management strategies to prevent or control pests in ways that reduce risks to health and the environment."

The first two steps in IPM are keeping a close eye on your garden to see if there are problems, and then putting a name to the bug or other issue. Once you determine that, you'll know what to do about it.

And sometimes what to do is nothing, because not all bugs are pests.

"Before you swat, stomp or spray, know your enemy," the site says in the "Is It Really a Pest?" section. "Know your friends, too. Over 97 percent of insects in and around the home are beneficial or innocent bystanders."

That means homeowners should not, as is often the first impulse, run to the local hardware store and buy a pesticide spray as soon as they spot a bug.

Another section includes people -- mostly state employees, but a few from other organizations such as the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association -- to contact about their pests.

Lemin said most of the work on the site came from the University of Maine Cooperative Extension and the Department of Agriculture, and most of the funding came from the Maine Board of Pesticide Control.

The website even has an area called "Just for Fun," including a link on weed quotes from Weedipedia.

My favorite was from Shakespeare: "Sweet flowers are slow and weeds make haste."

Tom Atwell can be contacted at 791-6362 or at:

tatwell@pressherald.com

 

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