Estimated reading time: 9 minutes
It just isn’t possible to keep every pest out of your garden, and you can live peaceably with a few as long as they aren’t taking over. However, an actual infestation could completely devastate your garden, wiping out all the vegetables you’re growing and ruining all of the hard work you put into them.
But by knowing the signs of pests, you can prevent an infestation before it becomes a serious issue. Here are the top eight signs you have pests in your garden – and how to get rid of them.
In this article, we’ll talk about some of the most apparent signs that unwanted pests are taking up residence in your garden. Then, we’ll talk about some of the most likely pests causing these problems. Finally, we’ll also give you some suggestions to get rid of them.
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1. Holes in the Leaves
If you’re finding holes in the leaves of your vegetable plants, the question isn’t IF you have bugs, but what kind.
If you have small holes, you might have flea beetles – they’re the same size as fleas and hop around just like fleas. The larvae can feed on the plants’ root system.
If you have squiggly and curved holes, you might have leaf miners. You’ll need to use a pesticide to get rid of them, or you could try Diglyphus isaea wasps, which eat them.
Other holes could indicate caterpillars. If you see caterpillars, you can pick them off and drop them in a bucket of water to give to your chickens.
2. Wilted Leaves
It’s normal for a leaf to wither here and there, but if you see multiple wilted leaves, it might signify that you’ve got a problem.
Aphids could be the cause of your wilted leaves. These tiny green bugs will congregate on your plants, sucking the sap – and life- right out of them. You can wipe them off by hand, which can be time-consuming. Or you can wash them off with a spray of water. The easiest fix, though, is to use aphid traps or insecticidal soap.
On the other hand, if you’ve got wilted squash or cucumber plants, you might be looking at the damage caused by the cucumber beetle. Cucumber beetles are bright yellow with spots or stripes, and they love to munch on your squash, melon, cucumber, and gourd plants.
The cucumber beetle doesn’t actually damage the plant, though. Instead, they carry wilt bacteria that enter the plant system when they feed off it. Eventually, the bacterial wilt will cause the leaves to wilt, and the plant will die.
Bacterial can be transferred to other plants, so you’ll want to remove and bag up the infected plants. Unfortunately, there is no cure for bacterial wilt, but you can choose varieties of plants that are more resistant to it.
Squash Vine Borers
Wilted vines on your squash plants could be a sign of squash vine borers. They eat the vine from the inside out. So, for starters, practice good crop rotation to prevent an infestation. Next, choose long-stemmed varieties that will root throughout the vine, giving the plant more means of getting nutrition from the soil.
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If you do see wilted leaves, look for a swollen stem. Cut a slit in the branch, remove the vine borer, and dispose of it. Bury the slit part in the dirt, and hopefully, it will grow new roots there.
3. Destroyed Leaves
You might have Japanese beetles if the leaves are completely chewed away, along with flowers and even roots. These beetles can decimate your garden quickly.
Early in the morning, you can shake the beetles off of your plants and into a bucket of soapy water. Or spray with insecticidal soap, which may take several applications to work.
Grasshoppers and Locusts
Grasshoppers can also cause extreme damage to your garden, and you’ll notice it by the large holes chewed in your vegetable plant leaves. Snakes, toads, and praying mantises will help keep the grasshopper population under control. However, large numbers of grasshoppers can form swarms and are called locusts.
You can dust your plants with flour to gum up the mouths of the grasshoppers when they eat. Or you can use commercial pesticides to kill them.
4. Yellow Leaves
If you see pale yellow spots affecting your garden plants, it could be spider mites. Spider mites will suck the sap out of your plants, stunting their growth and even killing them.
You probably won’t notice the actual spider mites on your plants due to their tiny size, but you might see bits of cottony white webbing on the leaves. To get rid of spider mites, you can spray your plants with insecticidal soap, Neem oil, or Pyrethroid pesticide.
Small bumps on your plants could be a sign of scale. Scales will feed on the sap of your plants, which weakens them, causing the leaves to turn yellow and eventually die. Prune away any infested parts of the plants but don’t put them in your compost pile.
You’ll need to burn or bag it up and put it right into the trash. You can dab smaller infestations with rubbing alcohol or spray with insecticidal soap. You could also purchase beneficial insects to treat scale.
You might also have an ant problem if you have a scale infestation. This is because the ants feed off honeydew, a byproduct of scale. So the ants will protect their tiny little friends.
Pale yellow or white spots could be a sign of leafhoppers. These insects are light green and wedge-shaped. They not only eat the plants, but they can also transmit viral plant diseases. To keep leafhoppers under control, you can apply diatomaceous earth to your plants or spot treat with insecticidal soap.
5. Slime trails
You’ve probably got slugs if you see slime trails sparkling on your plants. You might not ever see them since they only come out when it is dark and damp.
Slugs will eat almost any type of plant, but they love to munch on your younger, tender ones. Slugs can quickly destroy your seedlings, so you’ll want to put in the effort to protect them.
If slugs are a problem in your garden, there are a few things you can do. You can sprinkle diatomaceous earth around your plants to keep slugs away. You can also attract toads and non-venomous snakes to your garden because they love to eat slugs!
If that doesn’t work, shallow dishes of beer will attract – and drown- the hungry little beasts.
6. Sawdust Piles
You’d expect to see sawdust at a carpenter’s shop, so you’ve likely got a case of carpenter ants if you see sawdust around your plants or trees.
You can use ant traps or ant bait to get the busy creatures to take the poison back to their nest.
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7. Bitemarks and Holes in Your Tomatoes
If you see bite marks on your tomatoes, you might be dealing with critters such as possums. If you have critters after your tomatoes, you might want to bring them inside to ripen.
If you see holes that are about the size of a pencil eraser in your tomatoes, you might have tomato fruit worms or tomato hornworms.
Tomato Fruit Worm
The tomato fruitworm grows to about 1 ½ to 2 inches long, with bumps on its back and long yellow to grey stripes running along the sides of its back. The tomato fruitworm will burrow into your tomatoes, which causes them to rot from the inside before they’re even finished ripening. You can’t eat them!
You may want to attract beneficial insects which prey on tomato worms, use Neem oil or insecticidal soap, and sprinkle diatomaceous earth around the base of your plant.s If you see any of these worms, just pick them off (and toss them to your chickens!)
Avoid planting tomatoes near your corn, as these worms like to eat both!
Tomato hornworms are large caterpillars that can eat holes in your tomatoes, as well as the leaves and fruit. You can get rid of them by handpicking them off the tomato plants, spraying them with a pesticide, or attracting predatory insects to your garden.
8. Sheared Off Seedlings
It can be shocking to go out to water your seedlings and find them lying on the ground. But, if your seedlings look like they’ve been sawed off at ground level, you’ve probably got cutworm caterpillars in your garden.
Cutworm caterpillars live in the top two inches of soil, and they eat the outer stems of many different kinds of seedlings, such as tomatoes, cabbage, and kale.
Cutworms can grow up to two inches long and come in various colors.
You can protect your young seedlings by making them collars from paper towel tubes. Insert the collars about half an inch into the ground so the cutworms can’t get to your seedlings. You could also put small bowls of cornmeal into the soil near the plants. Cutworms love cornmeal but can’t digest it, making it a perfectly natural cutworm poison.
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