Pests In Your Garden

By Jan Brick
Pests In Your Garden 

The vegetable gardens have been weeded, tilled, planted with seeds or seedlings, and fortified with fertilizer. The flower beds have been dead-headed, trimmed, re-stocked with fresh mulch and well-appointed with complementary vibrant and dazzling spring and summer plants.

The pots and planters have been readied with additional potting soil and refreshed with colorful foliage and vigorous blooms and blossoms. This should be the moment in time to enjoy all that toil and effort, the time to observe our completed undertaking with a sense of accomplishment and pride. But what about the pests? Alas, aphids, ants, slugs, snails and scale, leaf miners, mealy bugs, cut worms, web worms, and tomato hornworms have arrived, along with whiteflies, spider mites, cucumber beetles, squash bugs, and cabbage worms.

Remember, though, that dealing with pests is a natural component of gardening. Even expert gardeners spend time waging war with these little challengers - actually, this is an essential part of every successful gardening plan. Do not panic. Plants can sustain a fair amount of damage before drastic control methods need to be implemented.

When working in the garden, we are acutely aware of the presence of bugs and insects and the question of whether they are the good guys that we need to maintain a healthy garden, or are they the bad guys that are about to devour and destroy what we have worked so hard to create.

The following lists of insects are certainly not inclusive of all that may be found in any landscape, but they are a few examples of each sort.

These tiny soft-bodied insects cluster on leaves, flowers, and stems of plants. Aphids may cause distorted, curled or yellowing leaves, and malformed blooms. Black sooty mold is often associated with the presence of aphids, as they secrete undigested fluid called honeydew.

Aphids are extremely prolific, and the population increases rapidly in the summer months. They feed on many species of garden vegetables including tomatoes, lettuce, kale, and cabbage.

Whiteflies are tiny white insects that are found on the undersides of leaves where both the larvae and the adult insects suck sap from the leaves. The above-mentioned problem of sooty mold is also associated with this pest. A sure indication that whiteflies are present is when the plant is moved or shaken; the insects can be seen fluttering rapidly around it.

Plants effected with whiteflies include tomatoes, peppers, and citrus. Insecticidal soap, horticultural oil and neem are effective aphid and whitefly controls.

Placeholder imageSlugs and Snails
Both slugs and snails cause silvery trails that wind along the plants and leaves. They are mollusks, relatives of oysters and clams and work mainly at night to protect their soft bodies from the sunlight.

Spider Mites
Spider mites are related to spiders. However, they are not beneficial insects, but are instead a common garden pest that causes widespread damage while having the advantage of being difficult to spot. About the size of pepper grains, they cause damage by sucking the sap from the undersides of leaves.

Place a white paper under a leaf and tap the plant. If specks drop to the paper and begin to crawl around, you have spider mites. Unfortunately, spider mites thrive in hot dry weather such as we experience during our summer months.

Leaf Miners
Leaf miners are particularly partial to fruit trees. Light-colored trails can be seen through the leaves that will eventually curl, dry up, and die. Adult leaf miner flies lay their eggs on the leaves, and the hatchlings penetrate the leaf to feed on the plant tissue between the inner and outer layer of the leaf.

Mealy Bugs
Mealy bugs appear on stems and leaves as white cottony-looking clusters. The effected leaves may be sticky and covered with black sooty mold from honeydew. The young mealy bugs are fairly mobile and will spread rapidly to nearby plants, if not eliminated quickly.

Cucumber Beetles
Cucumber beetles are bright yellow with spots or stripes and will thrive on melons, cucumbers squash, corn, beets, and beans. Spinosad-based organic pesticides are effective in dealing with this pest.

Tomato Hornworms
Tomato hornworms are green with white stripes on their sides and have a soft spike or horn protruding from the backside of the body. Most attractive to them are tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, and eggplant.

The worms feed at night leaving behind obviously eaten leaves and shelter within the foliage by day. A common control method is to plant flowering herbs in the area that will lure wasps to then feed on the larvae.

Beneficial Insects
Placeholder imageBeneficial is defined as promoting a favorable result. The beneficial insects listed below will aid in promoting this favorable result in your garden on a daily basis simply by the existence of their voracious appetites. As they work their way around and over your plants, they are controlling the infestation of the undesirables.

You may be familiar with many of their names and can readily identify them, which is a good thing. Educating others, particularly youngsters, is important so that we may maintain a continuing source of these garden helpers without risking extermination with the excessive use of pesticides and insecticides. Attracting natural predators to your garden - birds, lizards, frogs, wasps, ladybugs, lacewings, and dragonflies are good examples.

Ladybugs are one of the most recognizable beneficial insects. They are fond of aphids, scales, mites, and other soft-bodied insects. A ladybug can eat up to 50 aphids a day and up to 5,000 aphids in its lifetime that may be as short as four weeks. Ladybugs are small, oval-shaped winged insects, usually red with black spots or black with red spots.

Assassin Bugs
Assassin bugs kill many garden pests including flies, mosquitoes, beetles, and large caterpillars. Assassin bugs lie in wait for insects then attack quickly to paralyze their prey by injecting a toxin that dissolves tissue then sucking up the other bug's tissues. They have an elongated head with a distinct narrow neck and long legs. Most species are dark in color with splashes of brown, red, or orange.

Dragonflies seek out mosquitoes, gnats, and other flying insects, hovering in mid-air and catching them while flying. The dragonfly has a three-part body, two large eyes that take up most of the head, three pairs of jointed legs, and two pairs of long, delicate, membranous wings.

Good Gardening Practices
As one experienced gardener stated, “Clearly, we have friends, as well as foes, out there in the garden. The battle of the bugs is ongoing, and you don't want to wipe out your allies in a misguided attack on your enemies. Rather than bombing everything in sight at the first hint of an invasion, take the more rational approach of identifying the pest, assessing its damage and applying the least toxic control.”

Broad spectrum insecticides are formulated to kill nearly every bug that they come in contact with. They may be toxic to birds and bees, other beneficial insects and even humans. And as a result upset the natural balance between the good and the bad bugs, critical to maintaining a biodiversity that allows both to coexist in harmony.

The first line of defense should be natural management and an ounce of prevention. Grow healthy disease-free plants, inspect your plants for signs of distress or damage, deadhead or remove spent blooms and leaves, water appropriately (do not overwater), and keep weeds under control.

Prevent pest and disease problems with good gardening practices, pay close attention to your plants’ needs, and practice tactics for keeping them away, naturally.