The summer garden is lusher and more crowded than the winter garden. Many crops grown during this season have abundant foliage, colorful flowers, and attractive fruits. With this abundance comes the dreaded challenge of pest infestations. In this post, we will only focus on managing the most common pests.
The warm temperatures, along with the thick greenery, make it comfortable for different bugs to thrive. Some of these pests can be quite destructive. This article may not cover every existing bug in the home garden, but the list includes the most common ones.
What is a pest?
The word pest refers to any bug that causes damage and affects plants’ health. It is important to pay attention to your garden and observe any changes that may occur. Pest damage differs from a bug to another depending on its feeding methods.
Insects with chewing mouthparts can manifest damage in three different ways:
- Visible physical damage manifests in a form of holes or total defoliation. This is mostly caused by beetles and caterpillars.
- Internal damage is not detectable at the beginning of the attack. This is mostly caused by borers and miners, which feed on the inner walls of the stem. The plant will look healthy at first, then will suddenly collapse.
- Subterranean damage is caused by chewing on the root system. Many beetle larvae may be the reason.
Piercing and sucking damage
Some bugs, such as aphids, have piercing mouth parts, which they use to tap into the plant’s vascular system. They then suck in the sap depositing a sticky substance on the plant causing it to wilt and die. Other piercing bugs, such as spider mites, feed on the food-producing plant cells causing them to yellow and dry out.
Some pests like the cicadas cause damage by laying their eggs on the plant, or by girdling part of it to make a place for their babies.
Galls are an abnormal growth on the plant caused by a hormone-like chemical emitted by certain insects. This growth is usually not harmful but makes gardeners nervous.
Insects that tend to feed on the new growth of plants, like thrip, may interfere with their growth and stop it.
Organic pest control and management
The organic gardening approach to dealing with pests starts with good management. The priority goes to maximum control with minimum harm to humans and non-pest creatures. The following steps will show how to achieve effective results.
- Prevent any damage by providing the right growing environment. Start by planting healthy plants in well-balanced soil. Use proper spacing and avoid overcrowding your growing beds. Always use clean tools to stop the spread of any problem.
- Monitor your garden regularly to detect any problems as soon as possible. Observe any changes in your plants from color, growth rate, and any odd secretions.
- Identify the damage to find its cause.
- Decide on the action plan by determining the amount of damage. Ask yourself if it is serious enough to take action.
- Treat your plants as soon as you notice the problem to stop it from spreading. Also, treating early will allow the use of mild organic solutions. Any harsh chemical methods should be the last resort.
Common garden pests
Aphids are by far the number one garden pest found in the garden every growing season. They are small sap-sucking insects of green, white, red, or black color. They live mostly on the tip of the new growth and under the leaves. If not treated soon enough, they infest the plants and eventually take over the whole garden.
During the warm season, peppers, eggplants, green beans, and cucumbers are the main crops aphids enjoy. You can also find them on tomatoes and zucchini. Inspect your plants daily. Look under the leaves and at the new growth.
How to treat aphids?
- At first, sign, wash the plant with a strong jet of water every other day. This will dislodge them and discourage them from spreading.
- In case of a moderate infestation, use neem oil, natural soap, and water solution as a foliar spray. Apply the solution every other day in the evening to prevent sunburn. This should dry them out and eventually kill them.
- Introduce predator bugs such as ladybugs. At their nymph stage, they devour the aphids.
- If the infestation is really bad even after treatment, it is time to get rid of the sick plant. There is nothing more to do but save the rest of your garden.
How to make neem oil solution for treatment?
- 1/2 gallon water
- 1/2 tablespoon cold-pressed neem oil
- 1 drop of castile soap
Mix everything in a spray bottle and shake before each use. Soap will act as emulsifier allowing the oil to stick to the leaf surface. Always test the a small area to make sure your the concentration is not to strong on the plant.
#2 Spider mites
Spider mites are pencil-tip size spiders red in color. They thrive in warm and humid climates. They feed on the leaf sap causing it to turn yellow, then dry out.
- Inspect the leaves for any yellow spots.
- Place a white piece of paper under the suspected leaf and tap on it.
- You should notice red dots crawling on the paper surface.
- Look for any webbing on the tips of the plant.
How to treat spider mites?
Spider mite infestation can happen in a blink of an eye. It is important to treat them as soon you notice them.
- Try to was the leave with a strong jet of water, every other day until you get rid of them.
- Spry a neem oil-based solution every other evening. These solutions are available at any garden center, but you can make your own by mixing one pint of water, one teaspoon of neem, and a drop of liquid soap. Fill a spray bottle and shake well before use.
- Always spot test on a small part of the plant to prevent any burn damage.
- Apply the solution in the evening, to prevent sunscald.
#3 Stink bugs
Stink bugs are armor-like flying insects that feed on the fruit by piercing through its surface leaving a scar. They emit an unpleasant scent when squashed, hence the name. However, their formal name leaf-footed bugs for the leaf-shaped legs.
How to detect stink bugs?
- At the juvenile or nymph stage, leaf-footed bugs do not look like the adult. They are spindly, soft-bodied, and red in color. They tend to congregate under the leaf.
- Adult bugs are dark gray in color and have a hard oblong body with a leaf-like leg.
- Look for them around the fruits.
How to treat leaf-footed bugs?
The best way to control leaf-footed bug infestation is by catching them.
- Dedicate a jar with a lid for catching them.
- Fill the jar with soapy water and have it ready for use in the garden.
- Every time you find a bug, swiftly knock it into the jar. Close the lid immediately to prevent them from escaping.
- Empty the jar regularly and refresh the soapy water. Be warned that the water will be smelly.
#4 Squash vine borer
The squash vine borer is the dreaded by home gardeners. It is a red wasp-looking moth that lays its eggs at the base of summer squash. After hatching, the larvae bores into the hollow stem and feeds on the inner walls.
Unfortunately, early detection is very difficult since you must look for the eggs, on a daily basis, at the base of the plant. Most of the time, the borer makes its way into the plant and starts the damage. Yellowish saw-dust like residue appears on the outer surface of the stem.
How to treat squash vine borer?
Your best bet is to prevent to the attack from the get-go and here are some ways how organic gardeners do it.
- Cover the plants as soon as you plant them with bug cover. This is a mesh fabric with a tiny hole that blocks insects from getting into your crop.
- Cover the base of each plant with tin foil so the larvae can’t make their way into the stem.
- Sprinkle Diatomaceous Earth or organic caterpillar killer BT powder all over the bottom of the plant to kill the larvae.
- Inject the stem with liquid caterpillar killer using a syringe.
You may want to read this article to learn more on how to defeat the SVB.
Mealybugs are fuzzy white crawling insects that infest a plant quickly. They are warm-season insects, so they tend to attack houseplants in cooler climates. However, in warm climates, they can cause major damage to the garden.
Mealybugs are white oval sap-sucking insects that secrete a white powdery substance. The latter looks like sticky cotton on the stem of the infected plant. Similar to many insects, they gather and feed on the juices of the growth. Eventually, the plant turns yellow and drops dead.
How to treat mealybugs?
- Wash the plant with water to dislodge the bugs and break their reproduction cycle.
- Soak a cotton ball with 70% isopropyl alcohol and rub the infected parts. This will kill and remove the insects.
- Spray with insecticidal soap. Start by the concentration of one teaspoon per gallon of water. Always make a test application to prevent any burn damage.
- Spray neem oil solution. (mentioned above)
- Introduce predator insects such as lacewing bugs and beetles.