To spray or not to spray?

Wayne Hobbs
Posted 8/30/17

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Looking around the landscape closely, you are likely to find issues. Spots on leaves on one plant, little critters eating another one, or a plant that is just yellow and …

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To spray or not to spray?


GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Looking around the landscape closely, you are likely to find issues. Spots on leaves on one plant, little critters eating another one, or a plant that is just yellow and wilting for an unexplained reason; all of these can be signs of a pest such as insects, bacteria, fungus or nematodes.

With pests, the question usually comes up: “What do I spray to kill it?” However, the answer is not always that simple.

Identify the Issue

First of all, never treat a plant for an issue without knowing what it is. This is similar to taking medicine for an unknown health issue without seeing a doctor. An exception could be preventative treatments for issues that are highly likely to occur such as lawn fungicides.

Check your garden, at least once a week, for issues and identify their cause. If you see an insect, make sure it is a pest before treatment because only 1 percent of all insects actually cause plant issues. Consult online and printed resources but if in doubt, contact your local UF/IFAS Extension office for help and provide pictures of the issue or a sample. We can find the answer.

Another item to note is to check if you are providing the plants with the proper amount of water, fertilizer, sunlight and even recent weather trends. If a plant is not in the right environment, or even planted or pruned incorrectly, issues will be there.

Is it Really an Issue?

Once you see a problem, you have to determine if there really is a problem. If the pest does not kill the plant, can you tolerate the look of the damage? If so, leave it alone. Also, some plants are going to have the same issues every year. For example, most Hydrangeas and Indian Hawthorns will have leaf spots and if you have milkweeds, they will likely be eaten during some part of the summer.

Determine Your Treatment

So, if you have a pest and the damage is too much to tolerate, it’s time to figure out what to do. This is dependent on the host plant and the issue.

Utilize available resources to research this, including UF/IFAS Extension, but you can expect to possibly remove the pest (or infected plant parts) by hand, changing the culture that the plant is growing in, or utilizing a pesticide.

With pesticides, make sure the product is labeled for the pest and setting or plant. For example, if you are fighting Fig rust, you will find there are not fungicides to treat this issue and you will need to hand remove infected and dropped leaves from the area.

Follow all the directions on the label for the proper pesticide. Preference should be given to pesticides that have a low toxicity to non-target species and the user. You may also find interesting options for many issues including bio-pesticides, which use bacteria, fungus, or nematodes to kill pests. If possible, use a treatment that targets only the pest or disease, staying away from broad spectrum products that may kill other, non-harmful species.

If you have any questions contact the University of Florida/IFAS Clay County Extension Office at (904)284-6355 or email them to


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