Have you been noticing that some garden pests have been chewing on your vegetable plants? In nature even the healthiest gardens will encounter bugs at one time or another that’s just the way it is. Not all pest damage is significant enough to take action, but how do you determine when pest damage is enough to cause concern? As gardeners; we must educate ourselves and learn how and when pests need to be managed. Identifying good and bad bugs will help you coexist with nature to maintain a healthy happy garden. When you understand their purpose you can find natural remedies to take care of them, because we all know, chemical remedies are not good for your plants, you, or the environment. Remember before you take any action to eliminate ant tiny pests, pesticides not only kill the “bad bugs” they also kill everything else. Everything in your garden is interconnected so using toxins will also affect good bacteria and other microorganisms that are the food source for good bugs, and it also can be absorbed in your soil, the water source that your plants depend on, and ultimately the fruits that you harvest. With that said, lets talk bad bugs.
WREAKING HAVOC – GARDEN INSECTS
Aphids are little pear-shaped bugs that have two long antennae at the tip of the head and two horn-shaped structures, called cornicles that project backward out of their hind end, making them very distinguishable. They emits a waxy honeydew secretion which often turns black from mold-fungus. Aphids can destroy an entire plant and they can spread throughout your garden to surrounding plants, they suck out plant sap and cause leaves to curl, wilt or yellow and stunt plant growth. These disease carrying sap-sucking insects may be green, yellow, brown, red or black in color depending on species and food source. Aphids can transmit viruses as they move from plant to plant in a matter of minutes. Vegetables that that often have aphid-transmitted viruses are squash, cucumber, pumpkin, melon, bean, potato, lettuce, beet, chard, and bok choy.
A natural way to get rid of aphids is to plant mint, dill, fennel, yarrow, dandelions to attract bugs that are aphids natural enemies such as ladybugs, and lacewings. You can also plant onion and garlic near plants, aphids do not like the smell.
Wash them away with a homemade aphid spray. fill two-thirds of a spray bottle with warm water, add 1 teaspoon of a mild, liquid, dish-washing soap and 1 teaspoon of cooking oil to the bottle. Mix and spray aphid-infested areas of plants, after three or four hours rinse the plants with clear water so the plants are not harmed. You can reapply every five day until pests are gone. A mixture of garlic and vegetable oil will drive aphids away too, use 10 to 15 cloves of minced garlic, two teaspoons of mineral oil, one teaspoon of liquid dish soap. Let solution sit for 24 hours, strain, pour in a spray bottle and douse affected plants.
2. Cabbage Maggots
Cabbage maggots can destroy root systems in all cole crops including cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, turnips, radishes, kale, and other crops of the mustard family. Infested vegetable crops will appear pale green or take on a blue cast to their leaves, your plant growth can be stunted, and cause your plants to have a bitter flavor. Because feeding damage may be to the root, they can also cause root rot fungi. Larvae is small and legless, white maggots are usually less than 0.33 inch (8 mm), similar in appearance of most fly maggots. Adults are dark gray flies, half the size of a common housefly. These pests lay their eggs near plant stems in the cracks of soil, once the larvae hatches in three to five days, they burrow beneath the soil surface and invade the roots of your plants. They eventually tunnel into the plant’s taproot, after they feed for three to four weeks where they will pupate-either in the root itself, or in the soil. Pupation occurs in the top 5-20 cm (2-8 inches) of soil, pupae are cocoons that are elongated and brown and resemble small wheat kernels. Pupation lasts about two weeks which after that an adult fly emerges.
To prevent cabbage maggot infestation, you can cover susceptible plants so flies can not lay their eggs on your plants. You can also place buckets of soapy or oily water near your plants so the flies will get traps and drown. (Use a yellow bucket because they are attracted to that color).
If you have plants that are already are infested, pull the plants from your garden and destroy them. Do not compost infected plants, they can thrive through the winter in your compost pile and increase chances of returning next year. In the fall remove all dead vegetation from your garden, till it deeply to expose the cabbage maggot pupae that may be left in your garden. In the spring, rotate your crops and use row covers. You can use natural substances such as neem oil and Spinosad (applied at regular intervals) to help kill any larva that may have survived through the winter.
3. Japanese Beetles
Japanese Beetle adults are metallic blue-green, with bronze wing covers, while larvae are fat, white grubs with brown heads. These beetles have a habit of congregate in large numbers and easily cause havoc in a garden. They feed on a number of plants in your garden, skeletonizing the leaves and ultimately destroying your plants in the short amount of time they are around. Japanese Beetles go through four stages and each stage requires different control methods. The eggs are small white and oval, and they are laid in the soil becoming larger and bigger if moisture in sufficient. Larvae is the white grub that you may have seen in your lawns, they have a V-shaped series of bristles on the underside of tip of their abdomen. As they feed and mature, the get bigger. The grubs will feed on roots and organic matter so grub control is important. The pupae stage is when they start to become adult beetles, and become reddish brown. The adult beetle is approximately 3/8 inch long and the shell is a shiny, metallic green with copper-brown wing covers. They emerge between May and June and live for 1 1/2 months all the while feeding on your plants and mating, starting the cycle over again. Females can lay about 50 eggs and eggs develop at different rates depending on temperature of your soil, the warmer the soil 80-90 degrees F., the faster they develop.
Effective natural way to control Japanese beetles is to go into your garden with a jar of soapy water and knock the beetles into it. As they are known to congregate you will probably have to do this a number of times because your jar will fill quickly. If these little critters give you the willies and you don’t want to touch them, you can also spread a plastic sheet in your garden in the early dewy morning, shake your plants and once they fall onto your sheet, you can drown them in soapy water.
Plant cloves of garlic around the outside of your garden. Garlic is a great deterrent from insects entering your garden. If you have a large garden plant garlic in between your rows. The scents of marigolds, nasturtium and chives have been shown to repel Japanese beetles also.
Rake your garden soil in the fall, even though most birds are not natural predators of Japanese beetles, Starlings love to feast on the grubs.
A word of advice, do not use pheromone beetle traps, you will end up with more beetles than you started with.
4. Flea Beetles
Flea beetles are small (approximately 1/16 to 1/4 inch long) and vary in color from black, bronze, bluish, or brown to metallic gray, and some species have stripes. They have large back legs and jump like fleas when they are disturbed. They are common pests on many vegetable plants. Most flea beetles feed on a narrow range of plants however; the palestriped flea beetle, has a wide host range including squash, beans, corn, sunflowers, lettuce, potatoes and many weeds. Flea beetles are a type of leaf beetle in the family Chrysomelidae. In early spring adults females will lay single or clusters of eggs in small holes in roots, soil, or leaves of many different plants in your garden including radishes, broccoli, cabbage, and turnips, eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, spinach, and melons. When the eggs hatch, the larvae feed on the roots of the newly planted seedlings, usually causing little to no damage to the plants. It is the adult flea beetle that causes the most damage by feeding on foliage, cotyledons, and stems. If there is an infestation of flea beetles, it can result in wilted or stunted plants.
Natural sprays control can help limit flea beetles. Garlic and pepper can repel flea beetles and a variety of other pest insects. Blend 6 garlic cloves with 1 tbsp of cayenne pepper powder or a similar hot pepper powder or sauce, add that mixture to a quart of water, let stand for 24 hours, strain and pour it into a spray bottle with 1 tbsp dish soap and spray on your plants – reapply every few days.
Homemade flea traps can help to control flea beetles. Use a painted white or yellow piece of cardboard about 4-inch by 6-inch or larger and coat it with a sticky substance such as petroleum jelly or a non-setting glue. Shake your plants slightly while holding the trap over your plant, the disturbed flea beetles should get caught up in the traps as they jump. It is also a good idea to attach traps to stakes near your plants.
If you remove and destroy all weeds and crop debris around your garden, this will limit flea beetle habitat between growing seasons. Use floating row covers, gauze or mesh on young plants to protect them while they are growing. Keep your soil moist, flea beetles thrive in hot dry soil. If at all possible planting your garden where it can receive some shade during the day can be helpful also.
Use neem oil if you are still noticing a lot of flea beetles. It’s natural and non-toxic to honey bees and many other beneficial insects, or use kaolin clay as a protective barrier film for preventing damage from insect pests.
Cutworms are caterpillar larvae of night flying moths and there are several species. The larvae are called cutworms because they cut down young plants as they feed on stems at or below the soil surface. There are also some cutworm species that move up plants and feed upon foliage, buds and shoots. The adult moths fly at night but they do not cause damage. Cutworms are known to cause damage to vegetable including asparagus, bean, cabbage and other crucifers, carrot, celery, corn, lettuce, pea, pepper, potato, and tomato. Cutworms vary in color from brown or tan to pink, green or gray and black and they can be uniform, spotted or striped. They can be dull, or appear glossy or shiny and when they are disturbed they curl up in a “c” shape. Some cutworms migrate from the South each year, where others are native to your region. Native cutworms overwinter in weedy areas, grassy fields or pastures, and if weeds are permitted to grow in the fall after crop harvest, cutworms may survive to attack your vegetables in the spring. Even though cutworms are active throughout summer, most cutworm damage occurs in the spring when your vegetable plants are seedlings. When numerous, they can devastate a garden, chewing stems of young plants at or slightly above or below the soil line and they can continue to cut new plants nightly.
Controlling cutworms is more effective when the larvae are small so monitoring your plants is important especially tomatoes, peppers and celery. Watch for plants cut off near the ground or plants that are noticeably wilting, look for droppings on the ground, and roll your soil or soil clumps over to verify the presence of cutworms.
Till your garden before planting, this will expose and kill overwintering larvae and it will remove plant residue that may otherwise encourage egg laying. Also till your garden in the fall to expose or eliminate overwintering larvae or pupae.
Use aluminum foil or cardboard collars around transplants to create a barrier between plants and cutworms, making sure that one end is pushed a few inches into the soil, and the other end extends several inches above ground.
6. Tarnished Plant Bug
Tarnished Plant Bug adults are about 1/4 inch long and oval shaped. They are brown to black with yellow or white patches. Plant bugs are a large, diverse family of insects and is a key economic pest of strawberries with 2-3 generations per year. Fruit injury can occur from adult and nymph feeding. They feed on more than 300 plants and are most abundant during the pre-bloom and blossom periods. They are easily identified by the yellow markings behind the head which vary from a V shape to a Y shape to a heart shape. The nymph is similar to the adult only smaller. They are green with black spots and do not have wings. They suck the sap from plants and are believed to inject digestive enzymes into the plant when feeding to break down plant tissues. They feed on a host of fruits and vegetables, and plants including asparagus, celery, strawberries, cauliflower and broccoli, potatoes, beans, alfalfa, peaches, carrot, nursery stock and many species used as cut flowers, and more. Plant bugs can cause abortion of young fruits or buds, deformation of fruit, necrosis near feeding site, damage to seeds, reduced or deformed vegetative growth, or discoloration of vegetables such as bronzing on the head of cauliflower. Tarnished plant bug overwinters as an adult in in ground debris or between the leaves of various plants, and they become active as soon as the weather warms. Eggs are laid inside of plant tissue, in buds, soft young stem tissue, or leaf veins, and eggs hatch in about 5 to 7 days.
Weed management is an effective management tool for plant bugs. Preventing weeds from forming young buds and flowers will keep this bugs population lower in the weedy areas. Because plant bugs move around freely it is very difficult to manage them. Keeping your garden free of weeds and damage foliage seems to be the best remedy for controlling these pests. Making the garden clean will make sure that they will not be able to find a suitable overwintering site. Till your garden in the fall to expose those that have been overwintering and to kill the eggs of the bugs even before they hatch.
Natural predators will feed on the immature stages of plant bugs to help reduce their overall population of. These include bigeyed bugs, damsel bugs, minute pirate bugs, Peristenus (very small parasitic wasp), and several species of spiders.
Most non-chemical growers have been unable to find adequate methods for controlling plant bugs, even with organically approved sprays labeled for TPB. You can try a mixture of kaolin and plant oil to stray on your plants, or a garlic spray is one of the simplest, but seems to work best with cases of small-scale infestations.
Scale insects are sap-feeding insects named for the scale or shell-like waxy covering that conceals their bodies. Depending on the species, these little sap suckers can be found on plant stems, twigs, trunks, foliage, or fruit. There size ranges from 1/8 to 1/2 inch and their color, shape, texture varies depending on species. There are two categories of scale bugs: soft scales that produce a soft, thin, cottony, powdery or waxy layer over themselves that cannot be separated from the insect body and often produces an abundance of honeydew which is a sweet, sticky substance of undigested sugar and water that passes through the insect’s digestive system and is deposited onto leaves and stems, and armored scales that have a hard, shield-like cover composed of shed skins and wax that conceals the body but is not attached to the body of the insect. These little critters are are hard to control because of the waxy or cottony covering that serves as a protective barrier to traditional contact insecticides. Armored scale insects are small bugs that do not produce honeydew but they attach themselves to leaves and branches of trees. While attached, their large needle-like mouth sometimes 8 times as long as their body feeds on the sap of plants, trees, and shrubs (similar to aphids).
Control Armored scale insects by encouraging natural predatory insects such as lady bugs.
Horticultural oils can be effective for armored scale management. Horticultural oils are refined petroleum products that kill insects by blocking their breathing pores and also by disrupting fatty acids and cell membranes. They work on contact with insects so they are best applied when crawlers are active.They do not have a toxic residue and can be used in multiple applications and they killed kill other unwanted pests that can damage your garden also including mites and aphids.
Spray them away with 5 tbsp of mild dish soap and 1 gallon of water. Pour the soap into a spray bottle and spray the plant, don’t forget the undersides of the leaves and stems, until the soap solution begins to drip. Repeat the treatment every four to seven days until the scales are gone.
Scrub them away, when your plants are small and the infestation is minor, carefully scrub the scales off with your nail or an old toothbrush (soft tooth brush), spray the plant with your natural insecticidal spray every four days or so.
Pruning away parts of the plant that are infested with scales in high concentration, you can relieve your plants of further infestation. Cut about 1/4-inch above a leaf or at the base of the branch (Note; clean your pruners so there is no scale insect on them as they will transfer to your healthy plants.
There is a myriad of insects that live all around us. FACT: there are more than a million known insect species that we know of and probably more that have not been discovered yet. We also know that when these little critters are hungry, they must to eat. Sapsuckers such as aphids, whiteflies, or red spider mite pierce the outer epidermis of a plant and suck the sap out. Root feeders such as cutworms, beetle grubs like wireworms, vine weevil, chafer beetles, cabbage root fly, carrot flies, earwigs, and microscopic pest nematodes invade the root system of plants and some will move from plant to plant. Leaf feeders include but are not limited to butterflies, moths, sawfly caterpillars, adult beetles and their grubs, slugs and snails and they feed on what they are categorized as “leaves”. Flower and fruit feeders such as caterpillars, some moths, sawflies, some beetle grubs, plant bugs, and fly larvae will feed right on the fruit or vegetables.
Every gardener at one time or another will experience some type of pest invasion, and some problems are more specific depending on your area. I recommend using natural enemies and remedies against these pests. Natural enemies for example will work hard to protect your garden so you do not have to use dangerous chemicals that can be harmful to other friendly insects and small animals. NOTE: do not introduce new natural predators to your garden unless they are native to your area, they may have an adverse environmental or economic impact. Homemade remedies are inexpensive, you know what is going in your garden, they are non-toxic, and have yield good result with controlling harmful pests. Old fashioned traps are very effective, you can use any board or card board (painted yellow of course), wood, plastic, or glass and apply a sticky substance to it such as Tanglefoot, petroleum jelly and liquid laundry soap, or corn syrup and water, any sticky substance will hold them in place on the trap. These traps can be hung, placed on the ground near infested plants, or staked near infested plants. Plant cover are an earth friendly way to control and send away many unfriendly garden raiders.
Pests can injure or kill plants, transmit disease, cause economic damage or they can be a nuisance in some other way. These little critters eat our food, ornamental plants, trees, transmit viruses and diseases, and can make us sick. But if you are going to battle with these pests, using safe methods to manage and control them is an integral part of interacting within nature to create and maintain a balance and it is vitally important to learn and apply natural strategies and skills to keep these balances in check.
If you have any natural remedies that you would like to share please do so, I would love to hear what you are doing to control these little pests.
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