Like any natural habitat, your garden is home to certain animals that are beneficial and those that are less so. The helpful ones, including pollinators and predatory insects, typically keep the harmful pests in check. But occasionally the scales tip and a plant may suffer enough harm that you’ll need to take action. Fortunately, the majority of garden pests may be eliminated using non-toxic techniques like hand-picking larger insects or dousing them in a powerful water spray. The type of bug inflicting the harm will determine how you handle the situation. Here are some of the easiest garden pests to recognize and get rid of.
Pests known as aphids are small, soft-bodied, and pear-shaped. They can be either winged or wingless and come in a range of hues, including yellow, white, red, and black. Fruit plants are preferred by a white, cottony aphid kind. Aphids are generally found in groups on the sensitive young growth of plants. They feed on sap, distorting the leaves and blossoms as they do so. Although it can be unexpected to see hundreds of them grouped together on a plant stem, they rarely cause enough harm to the plant to cause it to die. They often aren’t a big worry unless they are harming a significant agricultural crop.
A powerful water spray from a hose can chop off the infected stem and crush it on the ground or knock aphids off of plants. A spray of insecticidal soap works, too, but the part of the plant where they have been eating will still exhibit some deformation as it grows. Lacewings and ladybug larvae, two helpful insects, can aid in controlling aphids. Remember that any technique used to eradicate or control aphids will also harm the beneficial insects that consume them.
2. Caterpillars and Worms
Moths and butterflies have larval stages that are referred to as worms or caterpillars. Because many of them will develop into the pollinators that your garden and landscape require, they are more difficult to manage. They consume the leaves and stems of plants as food.
Larvae can be left alone and hand-picked, if necessary, as long as they are not destroying the plants they are feeding on. Natural predators like birds can help; to attract bird trips to your garden, refill your birdbath’s water every day. Caterpillars are attacked by naturally occurring parasites such as some tiny wasps; look for tiny, white eggs on the caterpillars’ backs to confirm their presence.
Use floating row covers over young plants to prevent moths from depositing eggs, but remember to take them off when vegetable plants start to bloom so they may be pollinated. The biological insecticide Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) is effective at preventing caterpillar damage to crops like broccoli and cabbage without harming humans, animals, or adult insects.
3. Flea beetles
Flea beetles are tiny, black or gray insects that are less than 1/8 of an inch long. When disturbed, they will hop away like fleas or crickets. Typically developing in the spring and early summer, many are dispersed in pits or tiny, ragged holes in leaves.
Until the plants start to bloom, use floating row cover to protect young seedlings from flea beetles. Older plants that are growing quickly in the heat frequently experience little damage from flea beetle feedings. Flea beetles will be attracted to yellow sticky traps. Plants that are healthy can endure minor flea beetle damage, barring a significant infestation. Their natural enemies, especially parasitic wasps, frequently control their population. Grow their favorite nectar plants, such as sweet alyssum, dill, fennel, and catnip, to draw the small, stingless parasitic wasps. If infestations of flea beetles become severe, spraying with neem oil or a spray containing spinosad can help control them. Other chemical pesticides include labels for controlling flea beetles; however, you should carefully examine labels to ascertain what plants or vegetable crops they can be used on.
4. Japanese Beetles
Japanese beetles have coppery wings and measure half an inch long. They are either green or shiny blue in hue. Japanese beetles have an insatiable appetite. Adult beetles only leave behind the veins of leaves after consuming flowers and foliage. Though Japanese beetles prefer hundreds of plants, they frequently prey on hibiscus and roses. The larvae of Japanese beetles, which overwinter in the soil and then consume grass roots in the spring before emerging as adult beetles, can also be a problem for lawns. When turf grasses are heavily infested, they become weak and vulnerable to weed invasion.
Japanese beetles must be manually removed each day as soon as they appear in order to be kept under control. Although adult beetles can be killed by pesticide sprays, there is no long-term protection against new infestations since the beetles can fly great distances to locate food. Botanical and chemical treatments for grubs in lawns must be scheduled properly, and although they may be helpful, eliminating the grubs will not prevent adult beetles from eating on your landscaping plants. Because they frequently entice more bugs to your yard, beetle traps are unsuccessful. The best defense against these pests is to choose plants that they find less appealing.
Mealybugs are tiny, cottony insects that feed on sap. Mealybugs feed on plant sap, which results in stunted development and leaf loss in plants. As they consume food, they release honeydew, which can draw ants and promote the spread of sooty mold.
Plants with small flowers that provide nectar, such sweet alyssum and yarrow, should be grown in the garden to draw in natural predators like ladybugs, mealybug destroyers, and green lacewing larvae. Use vigorous water sprays or cotton swabs dipped in alcohol to remove mealybugs from plants. Spraying insecticidal soap, summer oil, neem, or a pesticide with pyrethrins can also help manage mealybugs if the infestation is severe, but make sure to carefully follow the label instructions to prevent harming plants and beneficial insects.
6. Scale Insects
Although there are many different types of scale insects, they always start out as crawlers that move about until they reach a suitable site for eating on plants. The 1/16-inch-long scale insects settle down, become immovable, and grow hard, oval shells that blend in with bark. The loss of essential plant fluids by scale insects causes stunted leaves and needles, yellowing, and twig and branch dieback. To control them, spray dormant oil on woody plants in the late winter to suffocate bugs. Spray plants with neem or other light horticultural oil in the spring and summer.
7. Snails and Slugs
Slugs are slimy, black or brown, and have short antennae that give them the appearance of worms. Slug-like snails have hard, elongated shells on their backs. Snails and slugs both enjoy dampness, and they both make holes in leaves and flowers. They leave trails of glossy slime after feeding at night and on overcast days.
Slugs and snails enjoy wet, chilly environments. Slugs and snails can be found hidden in mulch, garden waste, or close to rocks; at night, handpick them and get rid of them. Set out a number of shallow saucer-shaped beer traps at ground level; throw away any slugs or snails that drown in them and keep the traps topped off. There are many commercially available deadly snail baits; but, before using them, read the labeling carefully to avoid poisoning wildlife, children, pets, or even beneficial insects like earthworms. Sluggo Plus and other iron phosphate-based baits are thought to be safe for organic food crops. Slugs and snails can be discouraged by placing diatomaceous earth barriers around plants that are one inch high and wide, but only while they are dry—wet diatomaceous earth is useless. Salt and copper barriers are not very effective.
8. Tent Caterpillars
The larvae of numerous distinct species of moths make up tent caterpillars. The larvae build vast silken “tents” or webs as they feed on leaves, and the mother moth deposits her eggs on tree branches. Tree leaves are consumed by the larvae of tent-making caterpillars and fall webworms. Multiple tent-making caterpillar nests in a tree can defoliate it, and if this happens repeatedly over a number of years, the tree may eventually die. However, these nests are typically more of an unsightly annoyance than a hazard.
Caterpillars that build tents have a lot of predators (birds, other insects), hence they hardly ever cause enough harm to plants. By eliminating tents and caterpillars while they are still young, damage can be minimized. Although the caterpillar larvae are not dangerous to people, cool mornings or late evenings are the best times to remove the nest from the tree with a pole or gloved hands. After removing the nest from the tree, destroy it by burning or crushing. After significant levels of persistent damage over several seasons, insecticidal management may be necessary.
Healthy plants that have been grown in the ideal conditions are less susceptible to garden pests. Additionally, before using any insecticide, read the label for a list of plants, usage instructions, and safe and effective spraying techniques. Before using harsher synthetic chemicals, we always advise starting with natural, organic techniques.