With so many bugs in the garden, it can be hard to tell the good garden bugs from the bad garden insects and pests. Here are five common garden beasties that you certainly don’t want settling into your vegetable garden.
Tiny Garden Pests — Aphids
Aphids are tiny, semi-translucent garden insects that can infect just about every garden vegetable imaginable. But don’t let these tiny garden pests fool you, because females give birth to live young, they can can spread quickly. Signs of aphid infestation include deformed plants, curled leaves, and stunted growth. Sooty mold can also develop from their honeydew (which makes leaves sticky). Also, if you see trails of ants traveling up and down your plants, it’s likely that the ants are harvesting aphid honeydew. Follow the trail to find your aphid infestation.
Good to know: If you see a swollen aphid that appears discolored (like a brown, black or metallic color), don’t kill it. More likely than not, the aphid was attacked by a parasitic wasp and is housing a wasp larvae. Parasitic wasps are actually pretty beneficial insects to have in your garden, so leave the “pregnant” aphid be and let the larvae develop! Also, aphids feed on nitrogen, so if you use a high-nitrogen fertilizer, you are more likely to attract them.
Two Garden Insects in One:
Cabbage Worms and Cabbage Loopers
Although cabbage worms and cabbage loopers are technically different types of garden insects (one is a caterpillar and the other is a moth), they usually occur together in the garden because they’re actually the same species of insect, just at different phases in its life cycle. The important thing to know is that both cabbage worms and cabbage loopers are serious garden pests that will readily destroy just about any crop in the cabbage family (such as broccoli, kale, kohlrabi, cabbage and cauliflower) and other random vegetables like radishes, turnips and peas. Signs of cabbage worm and cabbage looper infestation include ragged edges and holes in leaves.
Good to know: Cabbage loopers tend to dislike onions, so if you plant onions around your looper-loving plants, you can help deter them. Space onion sets around 3 to 4 inches apart around your entire gardening area, or envelope cabbage-family plants with a protective perimeter of insect-repelling onions. Other plants that appear to be helpful for repelling cabbage loopers include garlic, celery, mint, rosemary, tomato and thyme. To deter imported cabbageworms, try planting rosemary, thyme and sage in your garden, or attracting beneficial insects lke trichogramma and lacewings.
Whiteflies — Pesky, Pesty and Devastating
Whiteflies are the tiny white-bodied, yellow-headed flies that are often found on the undersides of cucumber, potato and tomato plant leaves. Small but devastating garden insects, whiteflies can cause considerable damage to garden vegetables if left unchecked. Signs of whitefly infestation include yellow, decaying or sticky leaves and sooty mold.
Slimy Garden Pests: Slugs and Snails
Slow but no less irritating, slugs and snails are nasty garden pests that can do considerable damage to tender seedlings and low-growing fruits and berries (especially in warm and semi-tropical growing zones). Worse yet, they’re slimy. Feeding on the soft tissues of young plants, snails and slugs are nocturnal, so if you want to find them, grab a flashlight and inspect your garden at night. How will you know if you have snails in your garden? Look for raggedy-edged holes and slime trails.
Good to know: Slugs like moist environments, so the dryer your environment, the less likely you are to have slug problems. If you do have slugs, you can try sprinkling a salty solution around the area (but note that this could affect your plants and alter your soil’s pH).
Colorado Potato Beetles —
Pretty but Damaging
It’s too bad that Colorado potato beetles (also called potato bugs) are such pesky garden insects, because they’re actually quite pretty. Mottled and striped in bright yellows and oranges, Colorado potato beetles have a rather hand-painted quality that would probably be appreciated under different circumstances. Unfortunately, these little garden marauders would much rather munch on your eggplants, peppers, tomatoes and potatoes than pose for a photoshoot or two. Signs of Colorado potato beetle infestation include ragged leaves and (in serious cases) stripped stems (often called stemming).
Good to know: Beneficial insects can be very effective against Colorado potato beetles, especially ladybugs, lacewings and Edovum puttleri (a type of parasitic wasp). You can also try planting natural repellents such as marigolds, garlic, onions, flax, coriander, nasturtiums, and horseradish.
Looking for ways to deal with your garden bugs? Check out these herbs, flowers and plants that repel insects, ways to attract beneficial insects to your garden and natural ways to control garden pests.