Your Garden's Medicine Chest

A rundown of essentials you need for your garden's "medicine chest."

You keep the basics―cough syrup, bandages, decongestants―on hand for your family's ills, so why not do the same for your garden? Certain problems are very common, and it pays to have the remedy ready. Here's how you can be armed for the annual assault on your plants.

Choose plants that don't need much spraying. Many fruits, vegetables, and ornamentals have insect- and disease-resistance bred into them (no-spray apples, wilt-proof tomatoes, and mildew-resistant crepe myrtles for example). Many others naturally resist pests. Make this a top priority when shopping for plants. How can you determine which ones are resistant? Read newspaper and magazine articles. Look at plant tags. Ask nurserymen and other gardeners.

Identify the pest you want to control. Then buy a product for this pest. Insecticides control insects and fungicides control diseases. Rarely will one product do both. If you're unsure what the pest is, take a sample to your cooperative Extension agent or nurseryman.

Read the product label completely. The label tells you which pests the product controls, how much to use, which plants you can use it on, and which plants not to use it on. If you don't read the label, you are setting yourself up for disaster. At the very least, you won't solve the problem.

Wear protective clothing. It's not enough to avoid breathing pesticides. Many are quickly absorbed through the skin. So whenever applying them, wear plastic goggles, a filter mask, a long-sleeved shirt, long pants, rubber gloves, and boots. Wear a hat, too, if you're going to be spraying above eye level. Keep children and pets out of the area while you are spraying.

Use organic pesticides when you can. In general, these are less toxic to people, pets, and beneficial insects than their inorganic counterparts. Plus they don't persist in the environment. Because organics break down quickly, you'll have to apply them more often than inorganics.

Finally, don't drench your garden with pesticide at the first sign of mildew or a chewed leaf. Accept a little damage. Overusing pesticides results in resistant bugs and fungi nothing will control.

Now you're ready for battle. The accompanying charts list fungicides and insecticides that are helpful in the garden. You can buy them at most garden centers, hardware stores, and home centers. Store products in a cool, dry, dark place that's not subject to freezing temperatures. Keep them out of reach of children.