No matter how green your thumb is, every gardener has to deal with common garden pests from time to time. Invasive creatures like chiggers and slugs can wreak havoc on everything from vegetable patches to a well-pruned rose bush. And while it may be tempting to turn to harsh pesticides to rid your garden of unwelcome visitors, there are plenty of organic weed killers and methods you can use instead. We’ve compiled a list of the most common pests you’re likely to find in your garden, as well as how to treat your plants to dissuade everything from grasshoppers to aphids from nibbling on your produce.
The type of pests you encounter in your garden will depend on where you live, as well as what types of plants you have in your yard. Still, there are certain common pests that pop up all across North America. If you’ve noticed holes in the leaves of your plants, discoloration, or wilted leaves despite ample watering then chances are you have unwanted guests visiting your flowers. Additionally, if it looks like something has been nibbling your tomatoes, then your vegetable garden may be in trouble as well.
Once you’ve identified an infestation, the next step is to figure out a plan of action to keep your beloved plants safe. Oftentimes, ridding your garden of a pest is as simple as encouraging helpful insects like ladybugs to take up residence instead. By diversifying the plant life in your flower and vegetable patches you can move in good bugs to help control insects who like to feast on your handiwork.
Unfortunately, not all garden pests can be managed by introducing new plants and insects. Sometimes, more drastic measures will be needed to protect your patch. But the good news is most common garden pests can be easily treated, which means with a little creativity, you can stop worrying about holey leaves and get back to bragging about your daisies.
There are hundreds of garden pests that gardeners have to deal with each year, but some are more common than others. The following pests are some of the most frequently found in flower and vegetable patches alike:
- Aphids: These tiny bugs come in every color from green to pink, but they’re hard to see with the naked eye. However, you don’t need to see an aphid to know it’s there. Aphids feed on a variety of plants by sapping them of their juices. Be on the lookout for yellow, curled, or otherwise wilted leaves, especially around new growth — these are signs of an aphid infestation. Additionally, if you notice an uptick in the ant population in your flower beds, aphids could be to blame since ants are attracted to the sweet liquid the bugs produce after feeding off plants.
- Slugs: Since they prefer to feed at night, slugs could be plaguing your garden even though you never see them. During the day, these slimy creatures hide in the damp soil, but there are two major signs that they’ve been feeding in your garden: jagged holes in a plant’s leaves and the trails of slime they leave behind after a night of snacking.
- Whiteflies: A relative of the aphid, whiteflies are small, white-winged insects that feed off of plant juices. They’re particularly fond of ornamental flowers, tomato plants, okra, and other warm-weather vegetables. Unlike aphids, whiteflies are fairly easy to spot and are most commonly found on the underside of a plant’s leaves.
- Scales: These small, brown pests usually feed on the underside of a plant’s leaves, leaving them yellow or moldy. There are three main types of scales — armored, soft, and mealybug — and they’re most likely to be found in warm, dry environments.
- Grasshoppers: Yes, some grasshoppers are technically pests, but unless a large number of them have moved into your garden, having a few grasshoppers around can actually be beneficial since they serve as food for birds and spiders. However, since grasshoppers are herbivorous they can and will chew holes in your plants, making them particularly harmful to vegetable gardens.
- Vine Weevil: The vine weevil is a tiny black bug that loves to chomp on ornamental plants like azaleas and ferns. The adults are known for chewing little holes in the corners of leaves, but it’s the larvae you really have to look out for since they tunnel through the root system of plants causing them to wilt.
- Red Spider Mites: A relative of spiders, the red spider mite is particularly fond of azaleas. However, these red, spider-like arachnids will feast on other plants as well. Unlike some of the other pests on this list, red spider mites are easy to spot — when they attack a plant they present as dust on the underside of the leaves, but their movement will give them away. Additionally, you may notice webs on your plants.
- Japanese Beetles: These green beetles love rose bushes, but they’re honestly not picky about which flowers they’ll attack. The Japanese Beetle is known for swarming plants, leaving lots of holes in its wake.
- Winter Moth Caterpillars: When these caterpillars are born they’re about the size of an eyelash, but as they eat/destroy plants, they grow into green worms with white stripes. Winter moths are literally the worst. They attack all kinds of plants like basswood, white elm, crabapple, cherry, and blueberry trees. They usually stick to oak and maple, but will pretty much feed on any nearby plants if they can. In blueberry and apple crops, winter moth caterpillars attack the reproductive parts of the plant, which kills it before its buds have had a chance to open.
Peter B Morris, a Plant Specialist staff horticulturist, suggests introducing ladybugs and praying mantis to your garden as well. “The combo is fierce,” Morris advises. “Another great one, although most people don’t want them around — are wasps! These good insects are all carnivorous and will eat their way through your garden’s pests every day! If you don’t see any in your garden – you can purchase them in spring as either live insects or egg cases (mantis) and release them amongst your plants.”
How to Treat Your Garden for Common Pests
While each pest responds to different methods, there are several things you can do to keep your garden safe from a number of different types of insects. The most important thing gardeners can do is be proactive because no matter how well you tend your flowers and vegetables, there’s always going to be some sort of pest waiting for the right moment to undo all of your hard work. Luckily, being prepared doesn’t mean turning to harsh pesticides, since most bugs and insects can be removed via natural techniques.
- Encourage Natural Predators to Visit Your Yard: Spiders, ladybugs, hummingbirds, and dragonflies are just a few of the creatures that feed on common garden pests. In some cases, you can plant herbs like dill or fennel to bring ladybugs to your yard, or hang hummingbird feeders to keep the beautiful birds coming back year after year. Whether you’re struggling with aphids or whiteflies, well-placed plants that attract these natural predators will help keep your garden safe.
- Spray Plant Leaves With a Homemade Soapy Mixture: The Old Farmer’s Almanac suggests making a homemade mix to treat pests like whiteflies, Japanese beetles, and aphids. An effective mixture can be made by adding a few drops of dish-washing liquid to water and then spraying the leaves of the affected plants. This should be done a few times a week for maximum effect, and the method works best when you spray your plants in the late afternoon when it is cooler.
- Mix Alcohol and Water to Get Rid of Slugs: Getting rid of snails and slugs can be a little bit trickier than removing other pests. Removing them by hand is one option, but The Old Farmer’s Almanac also recommends mixing equal parts of 70 percent rubbing alcohol with water to spray directly on the slugs.
- Try Companion Planting: Whenever you add a new plant to your garden, you can do a quick search to see if it has any companion plants that you can plant in the same plot to keep pests at bay. For instance, aphids aren’t fans of catnip, so adding a bit to your garden can nip an infestation in the bud before it starts. You can also solve your plant problem with more plants. Marigolds and chrysanthemums are great for repelling greedy bugs.
- Make a Garlic Spray. Much like vampires, pesky bugs hate garlic. To make your very own garlic spray repellent, puree a couple of garlic cloves and mix it with a quart of water. Leave it out for 24 hours and then strain it. Use the solution to spray it on your plant’s leaves.
Keeping pests out of your garden may seem like a never-ending task, but knowing which insects and creepy-crawlies will do your plants harm (and how to dissuade them from making themselves at home in your yard) is the first step toward a less stressful gardening experience.
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