Garden pests are extremely annoying, particularly when tons move in, chomping leaves and nibbling your fruit and vegetables. But you shouldn’t wait for them to do visible damage before you take action. If you spend just a little bit of time learning about the different pests you might find in your garden, and the types of plants they are more likely to attack, then you will find you are able to manage most pest problems with minimal effort.
Here are some of the most common pests you are likely to find in your vegetable garden (in alphabetical order), as well as plants that they like most, and what you can do to get rid of them.
Asparagus beetles are quite common, but it appears that asparagus is the only vegetable they attack. If they manage to find asparagus, the larvae – gray, black-headed slugs – and the blue-black and red beetles, with their blue and yellow wing covers, will gobble up shoots and foliage. The beetles lay their eggs on stems and foliage.
There is also a 12-spotted asparagus beetle that is an orangey color with 12 black spots.
Asparagus beetles will multiply in garbage and dirty gardens. They don’t like tomato plants, so this is the perfect companion plant. Birds, chickens and ducks love these beetles, but they may do as much damage to the plants!
Cabbage maggots attack cabbages, cauliflower, broccoli, radishes, turnips and sometimes other vegetables like beets and celery. Their larvae will attack turnips, Brussels sprouts and rutabagas.
These maggots emerge from the soil in early spring in the form of small, gray flies that lay white eggs at the base of stems and on the soil. It takes less than a week for the eggs to hatch horrid little legless maggots that go straight back into the soil to gobble up the roots of their favorite veg. Newly-planted seedlings quickly turn yellow and die. It takes little more than a month for the maggot to reappear as a fly!
Dusting with red pepper, ginger or wood ash sometimes helps to keep maggots away. If seedlings start to wilt, check for maggots. It is sometimes possible to wash the maggots off and flush them out of the soil – and replant the seedlings. You can also protect the beds where seeds have been planted with cheesecloth or nylon sheeting.
You may spot a gray-green or brownish chrysalids hanging downwards on various objects near to cabbage patches. Then early in spring, pretty white butterflies with three or four spots on each wing, emerge to lay little yellow eggs on the underside of leaves including weeds like wild mustard and pepper grass. And it takes only about a week for smooth, green caterpillars with light and dark green stripes to emerge. For the next two to three weeks they will do their damage, gobbling up leaves before pupating. The huge, ragged holes that they make in leaves are unmistakable.
Since there will be as many as three to six generations of cabbage worm in any one season, it is good practice to cover susceptible plants with nylon netting to keep the butterflies away. Companion planting with tomatoes, onions, garlic and sage is also helpful. Braconid wasps, which are attracted by strawberries, will also help to reduce the number of caterpillars. Otherwise you can remove caterpillars by hand and destroy them, or spoon over-boiled milk into the head of the cabbage or even spray with water to which a little flour and salt has been added.
Corn borer doesn’t just eat corn. It burrows into many other vegetables and fruits, including bell peppers, beans and tomatoes, and will also attack large-stemmed flowers like dahlias and gladiolus.
You will find the larva of corn borer in old stalks, in the form of an inch-long black spotted caterpillar. Then in early summer yellow-brown moths emerge and lay their white eggs on the underside of the plant leaves. When they hatch, the larvae go to work again, chomping leaves and then making their way into their stalky homes.
You can remove caterpillars by hand and kill them, but you will also need to destroy any infected stalks which may be harboring eggs or newly hatched larvae. You can also use a natural non-toxic pesticide like BTK (Bacillus thuringiensis kurstaki)
Corn earworms, which are also known as tomato fruit worms, are incredibly common in most parts of the world.
Brownish-olive colored moths emerge out of the ground and lay hundreds and thousands of dirty, off-white eggs on the leaves of various plants including corn, tomatoes and lima beans. These hatch caterpillars with yellow heads and yellow, green and brown stripes that grow as long as two inches.
You can keep them out of sweet corn by applying drops of mineral oil to the silky ends at the tip of the corn ears when the silk starts to turn brown. Growing marigolds as a companion plant also seems to help. Special bait may be used to keep these worms away from tomato plants.