Let’s begin with the good news: Ninety percent of insects are listed in the category of either helpful or not harmful. That also implies the remaining ten percent of insects are pests. We attract that small percentage by the mere desire to grow delectable plants they most enjoy eating. As gardeners, it is important to take notice of the variety of insects you find flying, slithering or crawling on your plants, and learn whether they are helpful or harmful. Often enough, it does not take a pesticide to deter pesky bugs from harming your vegetables or fruits, flowers, shrubs or trees. There are always options. The first step is to recognize the variety of insects in your yard.
- Aphids: You may have walked past the thriving leafy squash plant to discover two days later the leaves were curling, or turning yellow. The thin green bodies of the aphid are almost undetectable unless you take the time to inspect the leaves. (The potato aphid is dark brown in color.) While the aphid will feed on the plant juices by attacking the roots and stems, buds and leaves, and the flower or fruit, it can transmit viruses, which will destroy the plant, and attract other insects.
Solutions: Spray the leaves with a mild solution of water mixed with a few drops of Ivory dishwashing detergent. If you see ladybugs, lady beetles, a praying mantis or Damsel bugs, help has arrived. These “good bugs” will feed on aphids.
- Earwigs: While earwigs are long, flat insects, one aspect of identifying them is that they have pincers on the end of their bodies. Although they do not sting, they can pinch the skin. These nocturnal insects seek moist dark areas such as mulch, organic debris, cracks, and crevices. Earwigs can feed on seedlings, flowers such as dahlias and roses, as well as strawberries and lettuce. As a scavenger, they consume decaying organic matter and eat snails and aphids.
Solutions: It is important to move mulch away from the foundation of the house, and keep the garden free of leaf litter. Periodically, lift stepping stones to ensure the earwig is not lurking underneath. Try leaving damp rolled up newspaper in a cereal box in the garden. By morning, you’ll be able to collect a grand number.
- Slugs: One of the most destructive and challenging pests to control is the slug. Their behavior is similar to the earwig, hiding in moist locations and destroying plants by eating their roots. One positive aspect is they eat decomposing matter.
Solution: It is important to routinely rake around hidden locations, lift rocks or flower pots to ensure the locations are slug free. Since slugs will not crawl over dusty or scratchy materials, sawdust, gravel, or sand will make an effective barrier. Additionally, sprinkle Epsom salt or place human or animal hair around your plants to deter the slug.
- Squash bugs: Dark gray to brown in color, with orange and brown stripes, squash bugs often hide on the underside of leaves close to the ground or the base of the plant. Check for rows of golden colored eggs attached to the leaves. Whether you brush them into soapy water or scratch them off, the eggs will need to be removed. If left, the squash bug will feed and destroy your crop of squash, cucumbers, melons, gourds, and pumpkins.
Solution: Wet rolled up newspaper and leave it in the garden. You can dispose in water or sealed in plastic bags and discard it with the trash.
The Good Bugs
The ground beetle is a nocturnal insect that will stand guard over your garden, feasting on cabbage maggots, cutworms, and slugs. Their bodies are shiny and black, and they may not appear to be a beneficial insect. To encourage the ground beetle and other wonderful insects, discover what attracts them to your garden beyond the tasty insects. For instance, the ladybugs are attracted to yarrow, fennel, or dill while the green lacewing will be drawn to cosmos, sweet alyssums, or coreopsis. It is wonderful to know there are great insects to help you maintain a beautiful, thriving flower or vegetable garden!