While oddball bugs pop up in the garden from time to time, there’s a short list of usual suspects that most gardeners intimately know. They seem to be sitting on the sidelines, ready and waiting for their chance to decimate your roses, damage your squash, and devour your tomatoes. Here are the Top 5 garden pests — and how to control them organically!
As always, cultivating strong and healthy plants goes a long way to deterring unwanted and damaging garden pests — start with healthy soil and ensure adequate sunlight and water, but consider this bug-by-bug strategy if things start to get out of hand.
- Aphids — Raise your hand if you have never had an aphid problem in your garden. Aphids are one of the most common and destructive garden pests, sucking the sap from veggies, fruits, flowers, and even shade trees. These tiny bugs are pear shaped with two long antennae and two black “tubes” that project rearward from their abdomens. When you see them, use a hard spray of water from your hose to dislodge them. Encourage natural predators like lacewings, lady beetles (aka ladybugs), and aphid midges.
- Scale — Scale looks very different depending upon the stage of development, but all of them suck your plant’s sap. Adult females look like hard bumps on leaves, stems, or fruit, while males are tiny flying insects. Larvae are tiny and soft crawling insects with threadlike mouthparts. Encourage native predators, and prune off infested parts of the plant or gently scrub them off with soapy water. Neem oil or dormant oil sprays are also good alternatives.
- Cutworms — These destructive pests are about 1” long, fat, and gray or black colored. Mostly active at night, they damage young veggie and flower transplants by chewing through the stems at ground level. Use cutworm collars to protect tender stems, and hand-pick these beasts off when you see them.
- Slugs — Slugs are slimy creatures that look like snails without shells, and they do a number on the young, tender leaves of veggies, flowers, and ornamental plants. Hand pick them off when you see them, use iron phosphate baits, diatomaceous earth, or beer traps. Some gardeners report success with spreading crushed eggshells around the base of their plants. If you’re interested in a little urban farming, ducks are a great natural slug control.
- Squash bugs — Both summer and winter squash are susceptible to squash bug damage, but the good news is that because they are so easy to spot due to their size and veggie preference that control is fairly easy. Simply pick them off your plants and feed them to your chickens or ducks if you have them. Clean up winter squash at the end of the season to interrupt their life cycle, and consider delaying your summer squash planting to a bit — this tactic allows native predators to become more numerous. Row covers are another good idea — if they can’t see it, they won’t come.