What's Bugging You?
Dealing with pests in the garden is just one of those realities of life. I'm always astonished at just how early in the growing season they begin to appear. Even before that first flush of spring growth has finished, signs of damage are visible.
There is a lot of information out there to help you eradicate these pests. If you recognize one of the symptoms listed below I recommend that you do a little more research to uncover the best solution for your situation. I also suggest using a method called Integrated Pest Management. Now, this is just a fancy term for taking an approach in the beginning that has the lowest impact on the environment and then using more extreme measures as each situation dictates.
To help you get a head start I've listed below some of the more common bugs that plague our gardens.
No pest in the garden is more insidious than the aphids. These tiny creatures can explode in population seemingly overnight. Aphids feed on sap, weakening the plant resulting in curled or deformed leaves, stunted growth, wilting, yellowing and or loss of leaves. You may also notice a sticky residue on the surface of the leaves. Fortunately they are easy to control with insecticidal soap or even by knocking them off the plant with a blast of water from the hose.
Colorado Potato Beetle
These guys love tomatoes, eggplants, pepper and potatoes especially much. The eggs are bright orange and usually found on the undersides of leaves. The best way to control this pest is with crop rotation and by throwing out plant debris at the end of the growing season.
Earwigs are small, about 3/4 of an inch and reddish brown. Their most distinguishing characteristic is the set of pinchers at the back end of their bodies. Small populations are beneficial because they eat aphids, but large numbers will damage seedlings and foliage on mature plants.
To help reduce the population set out traps. They will congregate in rolled up newspaper or tuna tins partially filled with vegetable oil. You can collect the traps in the morning and drop the bugs in a bucket of soapy water.
These are tiny black insects that jump like a flea when disturbed. They cause a lot of problems in vegetable gardens in spring when young seedlings are planted and again in July or August when the next generation of adults emerge.
Flea beetles eat holes in the leaves of your plants giving them the appearance of having been riddled with shotgun pellets. Chances are you will never see the culprit, only the damage.
Because this insect is a moving target that can't be sprayed directly, a repellent is more effective than an insecticide. Garlic spray is a good product to start with. The strong odor will actually help keep the flea beetles away from your plants.
Grasshoppers can quickly over run a garden, especially during hot, dry weather. For immediate relief we spray with an insecticidal soap and then put out a bait called Nosema locustae, which is a microscopic organism that infects grasshoppers with a disease.
In late summer and early fall, turn the soil in spots where you think grasshoppers might be breeding. This will expose and destroy eggs that will hatch next spring.
This colorful insect literally sucks the life out of plants. It is especially fond of leafy veggies like cabbage, but will spread to other plants as well like cleome. They can be controlled by hand picking or with an insecticidal soap.
Japanese beetles cause damage in both the grub stage and as an adult insect. As a grub they eat through the roots of your grass causing large patches of wilted or dead grass. In cases of severe damage you will be able to lift the turf right off the ground. Adult Japanese beetles move on from your lawn to close by flower borders and vegetable gardens eating leaves, flowers and fruits. They tend to eat the soft tissue between leaf veins leaving a green skeleton behind, which will eventually fall off the plant.
There are several methods you can use to deal with Japanese beetles, none of which seem to completely eradicate an already thriving population of adult insects. But we gardeners are an optimistic lot and persistence can lead to victory. Some of the methods I recommend are milky spore disease, beneficial nematodes, hand picking and neem oil.
Leaf Footed Bugs
This bug gets its name from the wide, leaf-shaped portion of its leg. There are many species of this bug. I found them marching across the back of sunflower, but apparently they seem to like roses as well. I find that an organic pest spray works well to combat these bugs.
Snails and slugs are the biggest challenge in my shade garden. To combat them I use an organic slug and snail bait. Also sprinkle crushed egg shells on the soil close to the plant because they don't like to travel across sharp surfaces.
These are microscopic spider-like pests that are hard to see until the damage is done. I have a problem with them every year, so I start treatment even before I see the damage. Spidermites suck the chlorophyll out of plant leaves causing the foliage to dry up and turn yellow. The leaves become stippled with tiny, light colored dots. Affected leaves feel like sandpaper, the texture is rough to the touch. Often you will find a fine webbing in and around the plant leaves. To treat spray every 7 days and try alternating between a hot pepper spray and an insecticidal soap. Other options are neem tree oil, BT, garlic insect repellent, and pyrethrins.
Spotted Cucumber Beetles
Although it's called a cucumber beetle, this insect will feast on variety of plants such as cantaloupe, winter squash, pumpkin, gourd, summer squash, and watermelon. While not a serious threat they can cause low fruit production and in some cases bacterial wilt, which will kill a plant.
Squash Vine Borer
If your gourds, pumpkins or winter squash suddenly begin to wilt, they may be under attack from a squash borer, which is a moth larva. Check the base of the plant for chewed up stems and sawdust-like material. You might also see pinhead-size brown eggs on stems and the undersides of leaves. You can try to cut the larvae out of the stems by making a small incision on the stem where the damage stops. Remove the worm, clean the cut and cover with sterile soil. Spray the entire plant with insecticidal soap. If you have squash borers, dispose of plant debris at the end of the season to prevent the larvae from overwintering and returning next year.
Similar in appearance to the leaf footed bug this fellow can be found attacking plants in the cucurbit family. As they draw the sap out, a toxin is left behind that causes the plant to turn black and wilt. Destroy any eggs you find on the underside of leaves to keep this pest at a minimum.
These caterpillars are out and about in spring. They create webby tents in the bows of trees where they lay eggs. I use BT (Bacillus thuringiensis) to kill tent worms. Simply tear a hole in the web and spray inside. It's toxic for the tent worms, but safe for beneficials like bees and butterflies.
You can tell that you have white flies by doing a simple test. Just shake the foliage of the plant and if a cloud of white insects fly out then you've got white flies. You can see the evidence of white fly damage in the lack of vigor in the plant and the sickly yellow discoloration of the leaves.
Because these pests fly, they are often hard to control. For the best results I recommend using both insecticidal soap and white fly traps. First, soak the under side of the leaves and the top of the plant all the way down to the base with the insecticidal soap. Next hang a few white fly traps. These are basically adhesive strips that are yellow. The color is attractive to white flies and other insects so they're drawn to it, land on it, stick, and eventually die. You can pick these up at your local garden center and they're easy to install.