There are tons of insects and critters that can destroy the fruits (and vegetables) of your labor. It feels like every year I am introduced to a new garden pest and a new war to wage. Since each region has different blights, here’s a list of some of the most widely prevalent pests and some advice on how to deal with them.
Aphids: Small soft bodied insects suck the juice from various garden plants and congregate together in clumps. They can be green, brown, white, black, grey, pink to almost colorless. They love my Brussel sprouts and cabbage but they can infest nearly any garden crop.
Solution – Use a high-powered jet setting on your hose and spray the little jerks off all of the infected areas, being sure to also spray the plants around them. This works well if you catch them early. If the plant is too far gone, tear it out and dump it far away from your garden. Ladybugs eat aphids, but if the infestation is bad, they might not be able to handle it completely.
Cucumber Beetles: Small yellow and black beetles that can be either striped or spotted. They attack cucumbers plants, hence their name, but they can also destroy squash and melons.
Solution – You can either smash them by hand, spray neem oil, row cover your crops until they are established and start flowering or buy yellow sticky traps. Sticky traps are essential yellow fly paper that attracts cucumber beetles.
Cutworms: These little worms can destroy your newly planted seedlings by literally cutting them off at the base. If you notice that several of your seedlings are cut off, run your finger in a circle around the root and you will likely find this little brown worm. The only solace is that cutworms can’t cut through more established stems and their larva period is short.
Solution – The best way to curb any devastation is by adding paper collars around your seedling stem. This collar should be at least 3” tall and at least 11/2” of is should be beneath the soil. I make my collars out of strips from a brown paper bag and put them on preventively when planting my seedlings.
Colorado Potato Beetle: These squishy beetles are striped and yellowish/orange in color. They can greatly reduce your potato yields and completely destroy your potato foliage.
Solution – Shake them off your plants in the morning or pick them off by hand and dump them in soap way to kill them. It’s gross, they are squishy, but those delicious potatoes are worth saving. Check for eggs on the undersides of leaves and remove them – eggs are small, orange and laid in clusters. Ladybugs, lacewings and spined solider bugs also eat the potato beetle’s eggs and larva.
Flea Beetle: Tiny black and iridescent beetles that leave pinhole-sized bites on your greens and other plants. They love my arugula and kale.
Solution – Covering your effected crops with row covering (transparent fabric) is the best way to keep
flea beetles from chewing holes into your crops.
Squash Bug: A brown bug that resembles a stink bug. These bugs move quickly on the underside of squash and pumpkin leaves. Their eggs are brown and laid in clusters on the underside of leaves. These bugs can completely destroy your squash plants and need to be caught and dealt with early on as once they reach maturity they are hard to fight.
Solution – Place a board in the garden overnight; both adults and nymphs will congregate underneath. In the morning squash the underside of the board on a hard surface. You also need to check for and scrape off their eggs every week or so until they are gone, and it only takes 10 days for their eggs to hatch. Any remaining bugs you can hand pick and drop into soap water.
Tomato Hornworms: Green squishy caterpillars that can destroy an entire tomato plant in just a few days by eating the leaves and the tomatoes. They start small and continue to grow as they feed. The largest one I’ve ever removed was about 4’ long and very fat. They also eat peppers, eggplants and potatoes, but they seem to prefer tomatoes. I have such contempt for these caterpillars that my husband included a line in his wedding vows that he would continue to help me remove tomato hornworms until death do us part.
Solution – Hornworms are very well camouflaged and difficult to spot. You can try to find them by looking for their brown pellet poop, but the best way to hunt them is at night using a black light. Hornworms glow in black light, while tomato plants do not. Pluck them off the plant and squish them.
Slugs and Snails: These little buggers pretty much like to chew on everything in your garden and can destroy a multitude of crops. Slugs and snails dry out in the heat so you will see more of them during rainy spells.
Solution – since slugs and snails like moist conditions, moving your watering to morning time so the soil is dry at night can reduce your slug and snail problem considerably. Another way to deal with slugs and snails is to set up a beer trap. Bury mason jars up to their neck in your garden and fill ½ way with cheap beer. Slugs and snails are attracted to beer and will have a blissful drunken drowning demise.
Deer: Bambi doesn’t care how long you’ve been tending to your garden; he will cause massive destruction is just a few visits. Deer leat nearly everything grown in a garden and they can clear a bean or lettuce patch in less than an hour. They will also tear all of the low lying fruit and branches off of your trees.
Solution – Lots of companies make deer deterrent out of predator urine, musk, etc. but the ones I’ve tried smell awful and have never worked for me. The best way to stop deer is by building a fence over 6’ tall. You can build a permanent fence around an established garden or you can invest in an electric netted movable deer fence that can be packed up at the end of the season and moved if you change your garden location.
Rabbits, Ground Squirrels, Woodchucks/Groundhogs & Gophers: These furry rodents love nibbling on gardens. Remember Mr. McGregor from Peter Rabbit? There is a reason why he was always trying to seek out and destroy Peter Rabbit.
Solution - The two best ways to curb these voracious rodents is to build raised beds with wire-mesh bottoms to keep them from digging their way to your garden goodness. You can also build a perimeter fence that goes all the way to ground to prevent these critters from sneaking in. The best solution is to do both, but that can be expensive and time consuming. A dog or barn cat hanging around can also help deter rodents.
HOT TIP: FLOWER AND HERB FRIENDS
There are many flowers and herbs that help repel pests. The two most widely used are Marigolds and Nasturtiums. Aphids, bean beetles, potato and squash bugs don’t like marigolds, and nasturtiums repel aphids, potato beetles, squash bugs, pumpkin beetles, bean beetles and white files. Plant these pretty edible flowers in with your plants to repel pests naturally.