Garden Pests

The number of insects classified as garden pests can make them seem a daunting force. Nevertheless, most insects also have natural enemies that keep them under relative control. Birds and beneficial predator insects are a great help in this regard. In most cases, the gardener has viable natural and chemical weapons with which to fight attacks and infestations. But the first line of defense is knowing the enemy, the insects that are garden pests.

Harmful insects that feed on garden plants can be classified into four categories:

  • Sap feeding insects attack plants by cutting a small hole in a leaf or stem and sucking the life juices out of a plant. In large numbers they can be particularly destructive. Examples include spider mites, whiteflies, and aphids.
  • Leaf eating insects generally are chewers that consume large portions of leaves and sometimes stems. They often take the form of caterpillars, snails, and slugs. In most cases they can be controlled by hand picking or application of Bt (a natural bacterial spray).
  • Insects that invade the trunk or stem can usually be found on the surface of the stem, but more insidiously they may bore through stems unseen, eating the insides hollow. These insects are more systemic and more difficult to control. The first line of defense is maintaining healthy plants and sometimes wrapping the lower trunks. Even so, application of insecticide may become necessary.
  • Insects that attack fruits and flowers include stink bugs, aphids, and Japanese beetles. These creatures deform and destroy fruits, making them inedible or at least unappetizing. They can often be controlled using traps, hand picking, or predatory insects. However, severe infestations may call for insecticides.
  • Insects that attack the roots of plants can also be hard to recognize because they reside under ground. These include grubs, maggots, wireworms and weevils. Milky spore disease can control grubs.

It is important to realize that crop damage can often be attributed to factors other than insects. Yellowing foliage, wilting, curling, and other deformations can be caused by a lack of nutrients or an inappropriate amount of water. Even so, these problems can leave plants in a weakened condition that makes them vulnerable to garden pests.

In nearly all cases natural, non-chemical control methods are preferred. This can include interplanting of mutually beneficial plants, planting resistant plant varieties, practicing good sanitation, weed control, and crop rotation. Introduction of insect parasites, predators, and parasites can be effective. Mechanical control, hand removal of garden pests can also be effective in small gardens.

Organic gardening is undoubtedly the healthiest method of gardening. Nevertheless, use of chemicals may become imperative. When chemicals are used, they should be chosen for the specific problem at hand and used strictly by directions.

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