Every garden experiences pest issues form time to time. Insect pest can be frustrating and sometimes when you discover what is damaging your plants it’s already too late to do anything about it. Here are five common insect pests that you may see in your garden for today’s Friday Five post!
Pest #1: Flea beetles
You’ll first notice flea beetle damage when you start to see tiny holes in the foliage. Mature plants can resist flea beetle damage but younger ones are very susceptible to it. In my garden they target eggplants more than any other type of plant. I’ll see them on tomatoes and potatoes but the damage is not nearly so dramatic. To deal with flea beetles try using neem oil, insecticidal soap, or diatemaceous earth. A combination of those treatments may be necessary! For companion planting consider planting catnip. Just don’t let the catnip go to seed as it tends to spread easily.
Pest #2 Squash Vine Borers
We love squash around here, especially the tasty buttery yellow squashes, but unfortunately so do the squash vine borers. This insect lays its eggs at the base of the plant which then hatch and the larvae burrow into the stem. The vine borer eats the plant from the inside and eventually kills the plant. If your squash plant is wilting look for sawdust and holes on its stem close to the ground. You can surgically remove them by slitting the stem lengthwise and pulling out the larvae then covering the stem area with soil. Prevention is possible using foil wrapped around the base where they like to burrow into the plant. Sequential planting is another way around them just plant a second crop of squash a couple weeks after the first set. To help extend the lifespan of your squash consider covering with row covers until they begin to bloom. Once the squash blooms you will need to expose the plant so the bees can pollinate the flowers.
Pest #3 Cucumber Beetles
Cucumber beetles are a pain since they spread disease that can destroy the cucumber plants. They can appear spotted or striped. Pick off the ones you see and drop into soapy water or squish them! Always be careful about using sprays as you could hurt pollinators who need to be present to pollinate the cucumber flowers. Use sprays like neem oil or insecticidal soap careful and try to target the insect or foliage while avoiding the flowers.
Pest #4 Squash Bugs
Squash bugs, stink bugs, or shield bugs all like to chew on squash leaves, fruit, and anything else in the garden. I’ve had them target tomato plants too when I don’t have squash available. They aren’t as damaging as the vine borers but are still a big pest. Squash the ones you see or drop them in soapy water. You’ll notice clusters of eggs on your plants. Remove the leaf if possible or rub them out so they will not hatch into more squash bugs. They like to nest at night underneath foliage. If you place cardboard in the garden at night and lift it up in the morning you will find squash bugs. That’s one method to trap and remove them.
Pest #4: Tomato Hornworm
Tomato hornworms (also known as the tobacco hornworm) are very damaging but are easily controlled. If you see one, two, or three of them chomping away at your plants remove it to put it far away from the garden. Birds love to eat them! You may happen to see one while protrusions along its body. If that is the case leave it alone or move it to somewhere else – it’s even better than dead at this point! Those white protrusions are parasitic wasp larvae (a beneficial insect to gardeners) that have hatched and are tearing apart the caterpillar from the inside out. They will grow and seek out other hornworms to target to continue their lifecycle and their mission to save gardeners everywhere from hornworm pests. Companion plant with basil to thwart hornworms.
I highly recommend planting flowers and herbs in around your vegetable garden to attract beneficials and repel the bad insects. This is a method called companion planting. You will run into one or more of these pests each year so always choose the least invasive approach to removing them first.