When insects attack your garden, the results can be devastating. In some cases, they destroy plants completely. No garden is immune to insects that damage plants, such as aphids, caterpillars, grasshoppers and Japanese beetles, but you can fight back.
The first steps to eliminating insect pests is identifying what's damaging your crops and deciding how much damage you can live with. Insect life, good and bad, is part of the gardening process. Plants need insects for pollination, and, in turn, insects need plants for protection and sustenance. When you understand the insect problem and the extent of the potential damage, then you can decide how best to treat the problem.
Read on to discover tips to control common insect pests in your vegetable garden.
Identify Good and Bad Bugs
- Natural predators, such as ladybugs, feed on other pests. Plant for these beneficial insects and keep in mind, if you introduce a natural predator, do not use chemical insecticides. Learn how to attract beneficial insects.
- Some caterpillars and grasshoppers can be good bugs for gardens. Learn how to identify insect pests and, if you find bad ones, like Japanese beetles, to hand-pick and drop them into a bucket of soapy water.
Treat Bad Bugs
- Organic neem-based pesticides provide good control against bad bugs. Always follow label directions and remember that twice as much doesn't equal twice as effective.
- The easiest way to capture insects is with a trap. Place traps 30 inches from the plants you are protecting to lure pests away from the garden.
- Try mulching with aluminum foil or reflective material to repel aphids and other insects. This is practical only on a small scale.
- Natural pesticides such as organic B.t. are the most effective caterpillar management. B.t. (Bacillus thuringiensis) is safe for people, pets and other insects.
- If all else fails, consider chemical pesticides. Always follow label directions and store pesticides properly out of reach of children and pets. Learn more about safely storing pesticides.
Control Snails and Slugs
Slugs (and snails, which are slugs with a shell) may try to hide, but their slick trails can be seen. If you see a sticky liquid and shredded or eaten leaves, it’s time to take action.
- Hand pick. One of the quickest ways to control slugs and snails is to hand pick (using gardening gloves, of course) and move them away from the garden.
- Put up a bird bath and feeder. When you attract birds, they’ll naturally control pests, including slugs, in your garden. That’s why setting out a bird bath or hanging a bird feeder and birdhouse in your outdoor space makes sense. Learn the best bird feeders for your backyard.
- Set a trap. Pour beer into a shallow dish with the rim even with soil. Slugs will crawl inside instead of around your plants. Replenish daily.
- Sprinkle diatomaceous earth around plants. Slugs and snails will not cross a barrier of diatomaceous earth in your garden. Diatomaceous earth is an organic remedy and excellent defense in the garden that works against many pests. Reapply after a hard rain.
- Wrap stems. Using copper slug tape, wrap stems of plants so slugs will not be able to crawl up to eat the leaves.
- Use bait. Sprinkle non-toxic bait by using light applications every few weeks and reapplying after rainy weather when slugs and snails come out of hiding.
When you create a habitat for birds and beneficial insects, you build a garden that can withstand the impact of insect damage. Also, learn to be a good scout to spy insect damage early and be proactive with treatment.
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