How To Get Rid of 12 Common Garden Insects

How To Get Rid of 12 Common Garden Insects

One of the most frustrating challenges in maintaining a healthy and vibrant garden is pest management. If not monitored and constantly deterred, pests can quickly and viciously move into and devastate your plants. From weevils to aphids, mites, and mealybugs, these creepy-crawlies will invade your space and consume healthy plants. To help keep these critters at bay, we have compiled a list of 13 of the most common garden pests you can encounter and how to get rid of them. 

Aphids

What Is an Aphid?

The aphid, or Aphidoidea, is a highly destructive garden pest. Also known as the Greenleaf or Blackfly, aphids exist worldwide and are most common in temperate, forested locations. There are over 5,000 species of these pesky bugs, with about 1,500 identified in the United States. Since there are so many variations of the aphid, its appearance can vary wildly. 

Aphids are small, on average between one-sixteenth to an eighth of an inch in size. They have soft, pear-shaped bodies with thin legs and very long antennae. They have two long “tailpipes” called cornicles, located at the end of their abdomens. These cornicles can vary in size and color, but all aphids possess them. Some aphid species produce silky filaments across their bodies that resemble wool. Aphids vary in color, but common shades are brown, green, and pink, with some species having red, gray, and black colors. 

Aphids destroy your plants by sucking out their sap, spreading diseases, and causing mold growth. As they drain plants, aphids excrete a sticky liquid substance called honeydew. As they move across the plants eating and feeding, they will begin to coat the plant with this substance. Honeydew, being high in sucrose, can attract other harmful insects and often lead to the growth of sooty mold. Aphids carry several dangerous plant damaging viruses. As aphids multiply, feed, and spread, these viruses can begin to infest entire gardens or crop fields. 

How To Get Rid of Aphids

Depending on the size of the infestation, removing aphids can become quite a chore. If your infestation is small and you don’t have to clear out a large area, you can remove aphids with a good blast from your hose. Aphids are not strong pests, making it easy to knock them off with a good spritz. A strong spray from a hose is also a good method for washing away the honeydew and sooty mold. If you have a lot of plants to cover or experience consistent aphid problems, you can do the following to kill aphids and keep them gone: 

  • Use insecticidal soap: Dilute dish soap with water and spray your plants to drown them. A mixture of 2 tablespoons to a gallon of water should be enough to drown them without harming your plants.
  • Purchase ladybugs or lady beetles: These insects consume aphids at an alarming rate. You can purchase these critters and disperse them in your garden, and they will quickly rid you of your aphid problem. 

Caterpillars 

What Is a Caterpillar?

Caterpillars, sometimes called worms or cutworms, are the larvae of moths and butterflies. These little critters can be devastating to crops but are not usually a problem for an at-home garden. They pose so little threat because they are not known to swarm and only harm very young plants. 

Thousands of moth and butterfly species produce “cutworm” like larvae, existing worldwide. They grow up to 2 inches in length and possess mostly hairless bodies and multiple stubby legs. They usually have distinctive heads with small, cutting mandibles and are most often green or brown, with small spots or stripes. They can also be black, pink, or gray. 

How To Get Rid of Caterpillars

Active steps against caterpillars are usually unnecessary, as swarms and full infestations are not common. On the off chance that you’re experiencing cutworm problems, you can try to attract natural species that prey upon them. Robins and other carnivorous birds are the caterpillar’s primary predators. You can attract these birds by installing a birdbath, bird boxes, and feeders. Or, if you’re worried about sprouts being killed by caterpillars, you can install row covers or stem covers to discourage butterflies and moths from laying eggs. 

Flea Beetles

What Is a Flea Beetle? 

Flea beetles, or Alticini, are small invasive insects and are major agricultural pests. They become a problem around late spring and early summer and are identified by the irregular holes they leave inside leaves. There are many species of flea beetles, most of which only target specific crops respective to their species. For example, the eggplant flea beetle, Epitrix fuscula, only targets eggplants, or the striped flea beetle, Phyllotreta striolata, only consumes cabbage. However, some species are not too picky and will eat just about any leafy green. 

While each species has some variation in appearance, most are small, one-eighth of an inch, dark black, shiny insects. They are most often found on the undersides of leaves and will hop, like a flea, when agitated. 

How To Get Rid of Flea Beetles 

Most garden plants can survive a few flea beetles, but they can spread harmful diseases and should be addressed quickly. A practical and quick way to remove them is with sticky, adhesive traps. The scent of these traps attracts the flea beetles, and the adhesive holds them in place. Set up a few rows of these below and between your plants. Otherwise, early application of pesticides is the only reliable method for removing them. 

Japanese Beetles

What Is a Japanese Beetle? 

Japanese beetles are some of the most destructive pests on this list. They are twofold garden and lawn pests, damaging your garden as adults and your lawn as larvae. These insects are rapid and efficient eaters, destroying the leaves of most plants by skeletonizing them. These beetles cause incalculable damage to crops each year and are one of the most pervasive pests across the Midwestern United States. 

As adults, Japanese beetles are metallic, blue, and brown insects about half an inch in size. They have long legs with sharp hooks at the end and sport a set of tiny antennae. As larvae or grubs, they are an inch long, milky-white with tan heads. The grubs also curl themselves into a “C” shape, giving them a distinct appearance. 

How To Get Rid of Japanese Beetles

Thankfully, Japanese beetles are not the most difficult pests to eliminate. Here are some of the best ways to remove adult beetles: 

  • Mechanical Removal: Japanese beetles cannot bite and are not dangerous, so you can easily handle and remove them by hand. Bring a small jar filled with dish soap and water to catch them in, and check your plants daily. 
  • Dish Soap Spray: You can also spray Japanese beetles with a solution of 1 quart of water and 4 tablespoons of dish soap. Apply this spray directly to beetles over the course of a week or so until the beetle population is reduced. 

Grubs can be tricky to remove, as they can embed themselves into your lawn and spread. You will need to time your efforts correctly, as beetles only reproduce twice per year in the late spring and early fall. Besides spraying potent commercial pesticides, the best at-home method is to use a diluted formula of the dish soap mixture above. Mix 2 tablespoons of dish soap in a gallon of water, add to a large sprayer, and apply this even over your yard once per week. This application should either drive the beetles to the surface, letting local birds do the work for you, or drown them outright. 

Japanese beetle grubs can be tricky to get rid of, with large infestations devastating yards and gardens. If you have trouble keeping them away or are experiencing other pest problems, your best bet is to contact a pest control specialist to treat your yard and remove the grubs. 

Mealybugs

What Is a Mealybug?

Mealybugs are small mite-like insects, ranging from one-twentieth of an inch to one-fifth of an inch in size. Their most distinctive attribute is the cotton-like wax that coats the outside of their bodies; this substance rubs off the insects and can quickly gather all over the plant’s leaves. These insects will rapidly multiply and swarm plants, draining them of their sap. Similar to aphids, as they drain your plants, they excrete honeydew. These pests help spread plant-harming viruses and sooty mold to your garden, making them a serious problem that you should address quickly. You can spot evidence of these pests by the signs of their damage, primarily wilting leaves, malformed leaves, yellowing leaves, and dieback. Dieback is the progressive death of twigs and branches, starting at the leaf or tip. 

How To Get Rid of Mealybugs

Mealybugs are some of the nastiest pests to remove from your plants, as they infest quickly and are particularly hard to remove. In instances of severe infestation, you should remove plants and discard them. The best methods for treating mealybug infestations are early identification, prevention, and isolation. If you spot mealybugs, try your best to isolate the infected plants, then treat them once your other plants are safe. Here are some of the best methods for mealybug removal: 

  • Insecticide soap: Dish soap and water can effectively remove mealybugs and the waxy coating from plants. A solution of 1 tablespoon of dish soap per 1 gallon of water is powerful enough to handle these pests. 
  • Mechanical removal: Mealybugs can easily be knocked free with a strong blast of water, then crushed on the ground. 
  • Neem oil: Neem oil is a natural insecticide safe for vegetables and other plants. This potent oil can be highly effective in removing certain pests, such as mealybugs. 

Scale Insects

What Are Scale Insects?

Scale insects are a superfamily of bugs that include over 8,000 different species, with over 1,000 present in North America. These insects can be tough to identify due to their variation. To make matters worse, they do not resemble traditional insects. Instead, they look like small waxy, fish-like scales or hard, dark-colored nodules. They can range from one-sixteenth of an inch to one-half of an inch in size. They vary wildly in color, but the most common species are black, red, yellow, and white. 

How To Get Rid of Scale Insects

Scale insects are highly persistent, hardy, and bothersome. Many methods like insecticidal soap and weaker pesticides won’t kill the adults, only the larvae. Thankfully scale insects do not reproduce as quickly as other garden insects and are manageable if caught early. You can easily prune off the infected leaves and branches, saving the plant and inflicting minimal harm. If you have a sizable infestation, however, you can utilize one of the following methods: 

  • Repeated insecticidal soap: While insecticide can only kill larvae, you can kill off an entire infestation if you apply it repeatedly. This continuous application wipes out more and more members of each generation, eventually eliminating the whole infestation. 
  • Neem oil: Neem oil can smother and suffocate scale insects. 
  • Introduce predatory insects: Insects like lady beetles or lacewings prey on scale insects. You can purchase these insects and introduce them to your garden. 

Slugs & Snails

What Are Slugs and Snails?

Slugs and snails are soft-bodied mollusks that can slowly but surely destroy vegetable plants in your yard and garden. These pests can be massive, ranging from 2 to 10 inches in length. They have gray or brown bodies, two eyestalks, and large shells in the case of snails. These critters can be difficult to detect, as they’re primarily active at night during the fall. They have cutting mouthparts called a radula that produces irregular, jagged holes in leaves and vegetables. 

How To Get Rid of Slugs and Snails

Slugs and snails can cause severe damage in large numbers but are easy to remove. You can pick them up by hand for small infestations and dispose of them in soapy water. You can also utilize diatomaceous earth or create a beer-based slug trap. To create one of these traps, fill a small can or jar with beer and bury it ground level in your garden. The beer should be three to four inches deep to drown large infestations. 

Spider Mites

What Are Spider Mites?

Spider mites are extremely small, swarming arachnids that can overtake and smother plans. They are only one-fiftieth to one-twentieth of an inch in size and belong to massive colonies. There are over 1,200 species of spider mites, each with distinguishing characteristics. However, specific identification is usually unnecessary. These mites target the same kinds of plants, act similarly, and are manageable in the same way. They resemble a swarm of tiny, moving dots when infesting a plant. They prefer to nest and feed on the underside of leaves, and most species create patches of silk webs. 

How To Get Rid of Spider Mites

Spider mites can be a frightful pest to come across – who wants to deal with hundreds to thousands of near-microscopic spiders? Even worse, standard insecticides frequently exasperate spider mite infestations. Insecticides make matters worse by killing many natural predators that target spider mites. Thankfully there are several ways you can handle spider mite infestations beyond typical insecticide: 

  • Introduce predatory species: The ever-helpful ladybeetle is an effective all-natural pest control specialist that loves to chow down on spider mites. Lacewings and six-spotted thrips are predatory species that will make quick work of spider mites. 
  • Insecticidal soap: Like many of the other pests on this list, a substantial washing of insecticidal soap can drown them. A mixture of 1 tablespoon of dish soap and 1 gallon of water will create an effective DIY pesticide that will wipe them out. 
  • Insecticidal oil: Insecticidal oils are one of the only effective pesticides that can curb the spread of spider mites. Commercial oils or neem oil work the best. 

Squash Bugs

What Are Squash Bugs? 

Squash bugs, or Anasa tristis, are shield-shaped, vegetable-loving insects that resemble stink bugs. They have dark brown, gray, and black bodies with orange and brown stripes. They are, on average, just under an inch long with thin legs and antennae. As their name would suggest, they prefer to eat squash and gourds like pumpkins. Unfortunately for the rest of your garden, they will also suck nectar from cucumbers and similar plants. They drain liquids and nectar from leaves, resulting in wither and leaf loss. Adult plants can typically survive, but younger plants will die from a squash bug infestation. 

How To Get Rid of Squash Bugs

Squash bugs are one of the most difficult to remove insects on this list. They are resilient to most pesticides, both DIY and commercial variants. They are fast and highly reactive, making smashing them or catching them difficult. Your only effective way to protect against these tricky pests is early monitoring, proper prevention, and early aggressive removal.

  • Protect young plants: If you’re growing plants from seed, only grow them inside until they are strong enough to withstand these pests. 
  • Use early deterrents: If growing your plants inside isn’t an option, use floating row covers to protect them. 
  • Identify and eliminate early: Keep an eye out early in the season for squash bugs and manually remove them before they can propagate. Use a pan or jar filled with soapy water to catch them in – this should drown them. 
  • Scrape off eggs: When removing squash bugs, check for eggs in between the veins on the underside of leaves. They resemble small, red, or brown beads clustered together. You can scrape them off and then crush them. 

Squash Vine Borers

What Is a Squash Vine Borer?

Next, we have another squash plaguing pest in the squash vine borer. These white moth larvae burrow into the vines and stems of squash, cutting off the supply of liquids and nutrients to the leaves and vegetables. This burrowing results in yellowing, wilting, and the plant’s eventual death. It can be challenging to identify a squash vine borer infestation, as the larvae don’t leave the plant’s stems until it’s time for them to pupate. Even worse, the adults lay eggs right along the base of susceptible plants. As the eggs hatch, they quickly work inside your squashes’ stems. 

The only way to identify an infestation early is to closely monitor your garden in the first few weeks of June. To spot them, look for small holes in the base of your squash plants. You can keep an eye out for adults who have freshly laid their eggs. Interestingly, adults mirror the appearance of wasps; they possess two sets of wings, long antennae, long legs, and distinctive orange and black spots on their abdomens. They also create a loud buzzing sound when they fly, resembling the sound of flying wasps or bees. 

How To Get Rid of Squash Vine Borers

The worst thing about vine borers is that the damage is already done by the time you identify them. While you can save infected plants, it is unlikely. Plants usually die from the damage caused by the borer anyway, and the effort needed to extract them from the plant is high. Your best bet is to manage your planting schedule to avoid vine borers and use mechanical control methods to dissuade them. 

  • Plant late: Squash vine borers are selective and only attack certain vining plants, namely summer squash, winter squash, and pumpkins. Plant these vegetables in early to mid-July to avoid borers laying eggs at their base. You should monitor them closely for the first few weeks of growth and throw away any infected plants. 
  • Make traps: You can create an at-home trap for these wasp imposters. Fill a bright yellow pan with water and a hefty squirt of dish soap. These moths are attracted to yellow, and then they will go into the water and drown. 
  • Use covers: When you plant your pumpkins or squash, as they begin to vine, use floating row covers to protect them. 

Whiteflies

What Are Whiteflies?

Whiteflies, or Aleyrodidae, are small, rapidly multiplying insects that can overtake a garden and destroy decorative plants. These pests may resemble tiny white fruit flies or gnats, but they are in the order Hemiptera and more closely related to aphids or mealybugs. Whiteflies are one-sixteenth of an inch to one-tenth of an inch in size, with bright white bodies. They have long wings, yellow heads, and produce a waxy white powder. You can find them in clusters on the underside of leaves. 

Like aphids, whiteflies produce honeydew as they drink from your plants. This draining can wither and even kill younger plants. Honeydew can lead to the growth of sooty mold, which the whiteflies will spread from plant to plant as they feed. 

How To Get Rid of Whiteflies

Managing whiteflies that have engrained themselves in a garden is extremely difficult. Instead, you should focus on deterring them and preventing them from becoming a problem in the first place. These steps can help you ward your plants against these pesky, waxy flies: 

  • Early monitoring: Whiteflies lay their eggs and hatch in late spring or early summer. Monitor your plants carefully during this time – if you discover white flies trying to lay eggs, give them a good blast with a hose or spray bottle. This spraying will knock the eggs and nymphs free, and then you can squash them or apply soapy water. 
  • Use sticky tape: Whiteflies are attracted to sticky tape like aphids. You lay tape along the rows of your plants or next to your indoor plants. Soon after the tape is applied, whiteflies will quickly become trapped and die. 

Final Thoughts

There are many troublesome pests that you can encounter in your vegetable garden. Some can be a threat to your produce right away, while others can slowly eat away throughout an entire growing season. Each can pose a unique challenge to eliminate, and most can be difficult to dislodge. Proper monitoring and maintenance in the early seasons will help you spot most pests before they become a problem. Furthermore, you can deter most of these insects with some of these pest control practices: 

  • Remove trash and clutter
  • Use fresh mulch
  • Use fresh and healthy soil
  • Reduce standing water and excess moisture 
  • Cultivate beneficial insects like lady beetles and dragonflies

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