According to Gardener’s Supply Company, more than 95% of insects and bugs you’ll find in your garden are either beneficial or harmless. In this blog post, we will explore how to know who to keep around and who to be wary of.
To begin, let’s start with the ones we know are good. Ladybugs, bees, and butterflies are all popular in the garden. Ladybugs eat the aphids that can destroy plants, and bees and butterflies are crucial for the pollination that crops need.
Other bugs are helpful, but many people aren’t aware of this! The larvae forms of ladybugs (top) and lacewing can often be mistaken as enemies of your plants, but this is not the case. Use these photos to help identify these beneficiaries:
On the other hand, we have creatures in the garden that will sabotage your hard work! These are five of the common pests you might find in your garden:
Butterfly larvae, most well-known as caterpillars, come in many different species. Not all species are harmful, but a few will eliminate some of your hard-earned crops. The cabbage looper (pictured above) eats kale, lettuce, cauliflower, and broccoli, to name a few. You can get rid of these green worms in a few different ways:
1. Keep a close eye on your plants, hand-picking the worms and eggs off whatever you’re growing.
2. Plant parsley, dill, or cilantro to attract the birds and bugs that will feed on cabbage loopers.
3. Introduce trichogramma wasps to your garden, the biggest enemy of looper larvae.
Aphids cluster on most edibles and ornamentals, and are harmful in large groups. They can usually be found on the underside of your plant leaves, but might not be spotted at first glance. You can eradicate these pests through a few methods:
1. Release ladybugs and lacewings into your garden, which prey on aphids. Attract these beneficial insects with dill, cilantro, and fennel.
2. Spray your plants with neem oil, which can eliminate many garden pests including aphids. Read more about the benefits of neem spray here.
Don’t be fooled by the name: these hornworms also attack peppers, potatoes, and eggplant. Be on the lookout for these green worms with white and black markings, which can be up to 5 inches (!) long with a horn-like extension. Some hints that tomato hornworms are in your garden include dark green droppings on the tops of leaves, stems missing leaves, and wilted leaves. If you find any of these symptoms, or a combination of all three, chances are that hornworms are close by! Reduce the hornworms in your garden by doing the following:
1. Till your soil at the beginning of the gardening season to kill overwintering larvae.
2. Handpick hornworms off your plants and drown them in soapy water.
3. Allow wasps to control hornworms. The photo below shows a hornworm with wasp larvae attached. In this state, the hornworm will do little damage to your plants, so it’s better to leave it be.
4. Interplant marigold or dill in your tomato plants to keep hornworms away.
Slugs are fans of almost any type of plant, especially young seedlings. They are the most harmful in cool, damp climates and are especially active at night. Prevent slugs from eating your crops through these methods:
1. Slugs dislike strong scents, so plants like marigold, lavender, and rosemary are perfect for keeping them away. Place these plants close to your other crops.
2. Entice birds to your garden; they’ll prey on slugs.
3. Keep your plant beds dry and well-spaced.
4. Water your gardens in the morning so that the beds dry out before evening, when slugs are the most active.
Beetles come in a variety of species, each attacking different families of plants. We’ll focus on the cucumber beetle for now, which often feeds on the younger leaves in your garden, killing plants before they have the opportunity to grow at all. How can you prevent beetles from being successful in your plant bed?
1. Cover seedlings with a garden fabric until they are strong and well-established enough to withstand the beetle species.
2. Handpick beetles off of your plants in the morning, when they are cold and slower to fly away.
3. Set down straw or another type of mulch around the vines of your plant.
In general, there are key practices to use when driving out unwanted pests. First, get out into your garden often. It’s tempting to set up automatic sprinklers and let technology do the day-to-day work, but many problems can creep up over the span of a few days. As well, you’ll grow a deeper connection to your plants if you spend more time with them! We explored companion planting a few weeks ago, and this is another trick to preventing pests and attracting beneficial insects. For more information on this subject, read our blog post here. Finally, crop rotation will force pests to move garden beds if they want to keep snacking on your plants. Don’t make it easy for them; move your species around from year to year.
Download the My Green Space app (free) to view our extensive (and growing!) list of pests and diseases, with strategies for eliminating each of them. Happy Gardening!
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