Garden pests are some of the most destructive pests. Even the most tolerant of gardeners cannot stand them because the havoc they wreak is usually disheartening, especially when it has to do with edible plants. One of the major challenges is that they never stop until there is nothing left to destroy. It is good, however, to note here that not all insects are pests and some insects are actually beneficial to the growth and wellbeing of your plants.
Having said that, let us look at some of the most common garden pests that you, as a gardener, may encounter as you go along:
Cabbage Maggots: These pests feast on and kill every plant in the cabbage family by making burrows through the roots, slowly but surely. Another way they destroy cabbages is by creating a leeway for disease-carrying organisms to come in and eat them up. To keep them off, you can put row covers over your plants or simply apply dust made from red pepper to the roots of the cabbages while they are growing.
Caterpillar: These are larvae of insects but are well known to eat and kill leaves, and also burrow into fruits of different kinds. If an insect nest in your garden and produces larvae that form caterpillars, there are chances that they would destroy your crops. What to do? Allow other insects which are predators, like spiders, to roam freely in your garden. They are one sure way to get rid of destructive caterpillars. Another way is to get them off manually but that may be too tedious for you.
Flea Beetle: They are basically beetles but can leap just like fleas if they are prodded. They destroy mostly vegetables by eating holes in them. Their larvae are equally destructive by feeding on the roots of the plants. Do not take it lightly with them if you find them around your vegetable garden because they destroy in these two ways. You could keep them off your garden by using row covers or by using a garlic-based spray on the plants.
Tarnished Plant Bugs: These bugs are either green or brown, making it near impossible to even see them without looking very closely; they easily fit in with the colors of your garden. They eat and destroy fruits, vegetables, and flowers by sucking out their juices and causing them to wilt or be distorted. If you have a variety of plants in your garden, none of them is safe from this destructive bug. Protect them by using neem oil spray and row covers. Also, since they tend to abound in the spring, be sure to weed your garden before then.
Root Maggots: They look like your everyday maggot except that they feed on the roots of different types of vegetable plants like turnips, onions, and carrots. Most notable about them is that they attack young plants so that when they grow, they are unhealthy with rotted roots. To keep these from happening, you could apply some diatomaceous earth powder to the young stems so that the adults that lay eggs would be repelled. Also, use floating row covers over your nursery beds just as soon as you plant your seedlings.
Spider Mites: They are either pale or brownish red in color and are not exactly insects but a kind of arachnid. They hardly ever live alone, setting up their colonies under the leaves of different plants. Using a greenhouse will not deter them; it is their specialty to attack greenhouse plants. They pierce leaf tissues and suck up the fluids within, leaving the plants dry. You would know your plants are facing an attack of spider mites when their leaves become yellow, dry up and fall off. You could use predatory insects like lacewings and ladybugs to fight them off or you could cut out the infested leaves completely as soon as possible so they will not spread to the healthy ones; and make sure you burn them. It is necessary to burn them because they die like that. Cutting off leaves on which they live does not necessarily kill them.
Stink Bugs: These destructive pests are not choosy; they can feed off of any vegetable, fruit or vegetation. They are different species of stink bugs but the Asian species is the most notorious because they do not have a particular season they visit crops. They can remain active all through the planting and growing seasons, whether in large or small numbers. One other distinguishing yet irritating fact about them is that they do not restrict their movements to gardens or farms. They have been known to come into homes in swarms and stay. If they invade your home, you could use a normal insecticide spray to kill them. In your garden, use floating row covers over your nursery beds as soon as you plant. Be sure to not allow tall grasses and felled tree limbs to thrive in your garden so that they will not find hiding or nesting places around your crops.
Tomato Hornworms: These are possibly the largest species of caterpillars you would have the privilege (or not) of seeing in any vegetable garden. Their size would have made it easy to see them and pick them off without a sweat but they are green, blending in well with the leaves which they feed on. They also have seven white lines drawn diagonally across their bodies but those are thin. They feed on tomato plants, tobacco leaves, eggplants and potato plants, amongst others. As with most other pests, predator insects are good in keeping them at bay or simply killing them. You can also use an organic insecticide on the flipside of the leaves and in plant canopies.
Whiteflies: These are usually found in large numbers underneath leaves and when the leaves are disturbed, they fly off in great white clouds. Another way to know they have infested plants is if there are sooty black molds or if leaves become sticky. Tomatoes, potatoes, cucumbers, poinsettia, and citrus are not safe from them. They feed on sap and that is just like the blood of plants and trees and when it is sucked or diseased, the result is sickly or dead plants. Whiteflies, when they suck sap, cause the growth of plants to be stunted and the leaves become yellow. This opens the plants up to all kinds of diseases and they eventually die. Use sticky traps or insects which are natural predators to rid your garden of them. You can also use an organic pesticide where you cannot find predatory insects. Note that you cannot use both methods at the same time.