How to Use Beneficial Nematodes for Pest Control

How to Use Beneficial Nematodes for Pest Control

Got grubs, armyworms, or cutworms wreaking havoc on your lawn and garden? Look no further! We’re here to share our juiciest secrets on how to use beneficial nematodes for effective pest control. These microscopic superheroes can eliminate over 200 soil-dwelling pests, making them one of the best organic pest control options available. And the best part? They’re easier to use than you might think! Follow these six steps to get the most out of your beneficial nematodes.

What are beneficial nematodes?

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If you’re new to the world of beneficial nematodes, you’re in for a treat! These microscopic segmented roundworms are naturally present in soils worldwide. With over 20,000 different species, the ones we’re interested in for pest control are known as entomopathogenic nematodes, specifically from the Steinernematidae and Heterorhabditidae families.

Insect-parasitic nematodes work their magic by entering the bodies of soil-dwelling pests through their skin openings. Once inside, they release a bacteria that poisons the host and breaks down its tissues for the nematodes to feast upon. This process leads to the demise of the host insect within 48 hours. The nematode’s life cycle includes six stages: egg, four juvenile stages, and the adult stage.

During the third juvenile stage, known as the infective juvenile stage, nematodes search for new prey to infect. They reproduce inside the host’s body, devouring it until they’ve consumed the entire pest. Hundreds of thousands of infective juveniles then leave the host to continue their hunt for more insect pests. This cycle repeats until your garden is pest-free!

How to apply beneficial nematodes in 6 steps

What you’ll need

  • Beneficial nematodes (available at garden centers or online)
  • Watering can, hose-end sprayer, backpack sprayer, or pump sprayer
  • Large bucket

Step 1: Wait for the right time

Beneficial nematodes are living creatures, and they’re sensitive to extreme heat and UV rays. To ensure their effectiveness, apply nematodes in the early morning or evening when the sun is low and the soil is cool. If possible, choose a cloudy day to minimize UV exposure.

The timing of the application depends on the target pest’s life cycle in the soil. Research the pest to determine the appropriate time to apply the nematodes. Remember, don’t purchase nematodes too far in advance, as they have a short shelf life. Store them in the refrigerator (not the freezer) for up to two weeks before use.

Step 2: Aerate and moisten the soil

Nematodes move through the soil to find their prey, utilizing the water present in the gaps between soil particles. For nematodes to be effective, the soil must be moist and not compacted. If you have heavy or compacted soil, consider aerating your lawn or garden before applying the nematodes. This will give them the space they need to move around and improve the overall health of your plants.

Before applying the nematodes, water the entire treatment area until the soil is damp but not saturated. This moisture will help the nematodes travel and also cool down the soil, creating an ideal environment for their activity.

Step 3: Mix the nematodes with water

Fill a large bucket with filtered water from your sink or refrigerator. It’s crucial to use filtered water as chlorine can harm the nematodes. The method of mixing the nematodes with water depends on the packaging they come in.

  • Granules or clay: Dump the material into the bucket of water and stir until it dissolves.
  • Sponge: Submerge the sponge in the water and squeeze it several times to release the nematodes.

The ratio of water to nematodes is not exact, as the water acts as a carrier to help you spread the nematodes throughout the soil. A good guideline is about 1 teaspoon of nematodes per gallon of water, but be sure to follow the instructions provided with your nematode package.

Step 4: Spray or sprinkle the nematodes

Using a watering can or sprayer, apply the water-nematode mixture to the area you wish to treat. Ensure that the openings of your spraying device are at least ½ millimeter wide to allow the nematodes to pass through. Apply the mixture evenly across the targeted area, shaking the watering can or sprayer continuously to prevent the nematodes from sinking to the bottom.

If your device doesn’t hold enough water to cover the entire area, simply refill it and continue spraying. Remember to mix the water in the bucket again before refilling to ensure the nematodes are evenly distributed.

Step 5: Keep the soil moist

Nematodes thrive in a moist environment, so it’s important to keep the soil adequately hydrated after application. Lightly water the treated area every three to four days for about 10 days while the nematodes establish themselves. Avoid overwatering to prevent damage to your plants and grass. If it rains during this period, you can skip watering.

Step 6: Reapply as necessary

For best results, apply beneficial nematodes at least one more time after the initial application. Wait about seven to 10 days, then repeat the application process to ensure all pests are targeted. You should notice a decrease in the pest population after approximately two weeks. If the infestation persists, continue applying the nematodes every seven to 10 days until the pests are eradicated.

Choosing the right beneficial nematodes

Different nematode species target specific pests, so it’s essential to identify the pest causing problems in your yard before purchasing the appropriate beneficial nematode. Some commonly available types of beneficial nematodes include:

  • Steinernema carpocapsae
  • Steinernema feltiae
  • Heterorhabditis bacteriophora

Research the pest you’re dealing with to determine which species of nematodes are most effective. Keep in mind that there are many other nematode species that control different pests, so if you don’t see your specific pest on the list, consider reaching out to a nematode producer for specific recommendations.

Frequently Asked Questions about beneficial nematodes

1. Where can you buy beneficial nematodes?

Beneficial nematodes are available at most garden centers and major online retailers. To ensure freshness, it’s best to purchase directly from a reputable nematode producer. Here are a few you can buy from online: Buglogical Control Systems, BioLogic, and ARBICO Organics.

2. How many beneficial nematodes do I need?

Application rates for nematodes can vary, but here are some general guidelines:

  • Small area: approximately 10,000 nematodes per square foot
  • Medium area: approximately 5,000 nematodes per square foot
  • Large area: approximately 2,000 nematodes per square foot

Remember, it’s common to apply nematodes at least twice for effective pest control. Consider purchasing double the recommended amount to ensure sufficient coverage.

3. How do you tell if beneficial nematodes are working?

Approximately two weeks after applying beneficial nematodes, you should notice a significant decrease in the pest population. To confirm their effectiveness, dig up a small section of soil and look for discolored pests. Infected pests often change color, such as grubs turning reddish-brown.

4. How long do beneficial nematodes last?

Beneficial nematodes can remain active and prey on insect pests in your soil for up to 18 months, as long as the ground doesn’t freeze.

5. Do beneficial nematodes overwinter?

While one hard freeze may not eliminate nematodes, prolonged freezing temperatures will kill them. If you live in an area with harsh winters, you may need to reapply nematodes in the spring.

6. What are the disadvantages of beneficial nematodes?

Although beneficial nematodes are effective and natural, they do have a few limitations:

  • They only target pests in the soil and have no impact on pests that feed on plant leaves.
  • Different nematode species are effective against different pests, so proper identification is necessary.
  • Beneficial nematodes have a limited shelf life and should be used within a month of purchase.
  • Soil conditions, such as dry or poorly aerated soils, can affect their effectiveness.
  • Results are not immediate, and it may take a couple of weeks to notice a significant decrease in pests.
  • The cost of repeated application can add up, making nematodes more expensive than chemical pesticides.

Beneficial nematodes: Deadly for pests, safe for everyone else

If you’re concerned about harming beneficial insects or pollinators while using pest control methods, beneficial nematodes are the answer. They specifically target pests in the soil and have no adverse effects on mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, or aquatic life. You can rest easy knowing that your pets, loved ones, and the environment are not at risk. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) even exempts beneficial nematodes from registration due to their safety and effectiveness.

Say goodbye to pests and hello to a thriving garden with the power of beneficial nematodes. For all your lawn care needs, including mowing, fertilization, and weed control, rely on the experts at Tips Tree Planting. Get ready to unleash the magic of nematodes and enjoy a pest-free oasis right in your backyard!

Main Photo Credit: CSIRO | CC BY 3.0 | via Wikimedia Commons

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