Ideas & Inspiration

How to Control Pests in Your Vegetable Garden

Identify Good and Bad Bugs
A caterpillar rests on a plant.
  • 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 plant for beneficial insects.
  • Some caterpillars and grasshoppers can be good bugs for gardens. Learn how to identify insect pests and, if you find bad ones, to hand-pick them and drop into a bucket of soapy water.
Use Neem-Based Pesticides
A bottle of neem ready to be used in a garden.
  • Organic neem-based pesticides provide good control. 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.
  • Mulch with aluminum foil to repel aphids and other insects. This is practical only on a small scale.
Manage Caterpillars
A caterpillar crawls on cabbage in a garden.
  •  Natural pesticides such as organic BTK is the most effective caterpillar management. It is safe for people, animals 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
Snail on lettuce leaf in the garden

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 how to attract birds.
  • 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.