Summer is the best time for garden-variety murder

July 09, 1995|By ROGER SIMON

This being summer, I spend my weekends killing things.

I do not mean large things. I do not mean animals. I am against hunting.

(Yes, I realize that hunting thins the herd of its weakest and stupidest members -- which is why so many hunters shoot themselves and each other -- but I oppose this practice.)

I kill only small things. I kill only those things that don't have parents. I kill bugs.

What kind of bugs? Let me grab this bottle and read just a few names: Aphids, bagworms, iris borers, lace bugs, leaf miners, mealybugs, midges, mites and thrips.

And I sleep just fine at night. My conscience doesn't give me a twinge.

That's because I live in a neighborhood where nobody cares what kind of car you drive or what kind of job you have. Nobody cares about your race or religion. Instead, everybody cares about your lawn. And your trees. And your bushes.

So a few weekends ago, when I was out enjoying nature (i.e. drinking a beer on my front stoop), and my neighbor drove by and shouted, "Looks like you got mites!", I knew just what to do: I threw my beer can at his car.

Then I went down to the garden center.

I got mites, I told the garden guy.

"Where?" he asked.

About a mile and a half from here, I said. You take a right at the light and go. . . .

"No, no," he said. "Where are the mites? On what plants?"

My evergreens, I said.

"How do you know?" the guy asked.

They're orange, I said.

"That's a sign," he agreed.

He told me that high temperatures during the day and high humidity at night caused spider mites to grow explosively and eat things.

What things? I asked.

"Geraniums," he said. "Boxwoods, azaleas, cotoneasters, elms, hemlocks, hollies, spruces, pears, plums, walnuts, apples . . . "

Stop, I said. These things are eating better than I do. Which is why I want to kill them.

"Are you sure?" he asked.

What's the alternative?

"Well, they will kill some of your plants," he said. "Other plants will merely be damaged. The spider mites suck sugar from the plant. And then chlorophyll production ceases. Which explains the orange color."

Given all that, I said, why wouldn't I want to kill them?

"Well, there is the environment to consider," he said.

Aren't I part of the environment? I asked.

"Yes," he said.

L Fine, I said. My part of the environment wants to kill them.

"How about just hosing them off the plants with a strong stream of water?" he said.

How often would I have to do that? I asked.

"At least every other day," he said. "Every day would be better."

No, I said. I think I'll just kill them.

"In that case, may I suggest an organic product?" he said.

No, I said. I distrust anything advertised as organic. Advertisers try to convince us that organic is synonymous with "healthy" and "natural." It doesn't mean that at all. Anything with carbon in it can be called organic. So pencils and carbon paper are organic products. But try eating them and see how healthy you get.

"How about a nice insecticidal soap?" the garden guy said. "Just spray every part of the plant, including the undersides of the branches."

Why? I asked.

"Because the soap has to come in contact with the mite," he said. "And you have to do it after every rain."

Too much work, I said. What else you got?

"Well," he said glumly, "there are systemics." He said it like he was recommending mustard gas.

How do they work? I asked.

"The plant soaks it up and the poison travels to every part of the plant," he said. "So when the mite feeds on the plant, the mite dies."

I love it! I said. The entire plant becomes a bomb! Gimme!

"But you must be extremely careful with it," the guy said. "Follow the directions exactly. And remember it is toxic to wildlife."

I'm not going to spray it on deer! I said. Or even squirrels. I don't kill anything that has parents.

"Don't you think mites have parents?" the guy said.

Of course not, I said.

"Then where do they come from?" he asked.

Garden centers, I said. How else would you guys stay in business?

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