10 Worst Garden Pests & How to Get Rid of Them for Good

Gardening is a rewarding activity that can beautify your home and provide fresh produce, but it also comes with its challenges, including pests. Understanding the most destructive garden pests and the best ways to control them can help you maintain a healthy and thriving garden.

Here’s a detailed guide on identifying and dealing with some of the worst offenders.

1. Aphids

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Aphids are small, sap-sucking insects that cluster on the undersides of leaves and on new growth. They come in various colors, including green, black, brown, and pink. Aphids can cause leaves to curl, wilt, or yellow and can stunt plant growth.

Control Methods:

  • Natural Predators: Introduce or encourage natural aphid predators in your garden, such as ladybugs, lacewings, and parasitic wasps.
  • Water Sprays: Use a strong jet of water to dislodge aphids from your plants, which is often enough to significantly reduce their populations.
  • Organic Sprays: Neem oil, insecticidal soaps, and horticultural oils can be effective in controlling aphids. Apply according to the product instructions for the best results.

2. Japanese Beetles

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Japanese beetles are metallic blue-green with bronze wing covers, about 1/2 inch long. They feed on the leaves and flowers of over 300 different plants, leaving behind skeletonized foliage and damaged blooms.

Control Methods:

  • Hand Picking: Early in the morning, shake them off plants into a bucket of soapy water.
  • Traps: Beetle traps can attract and capture large numbers of beetles, but they should be placed at least 30 feet away from the garden to avoid attracting more beetles into your plant area.
  • Milky Spore: Applying a milky spore to the soil can kill the larvae of Japanese beetles, reducing the population over time.

3. Slugs & Snails

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These mollusks are notorious for their appetite for leaves, stems, flowers, and fruits. They are especially active at night and during wet conditions, leaving a slimy trail and irregular holes in foliage.

Control Methods:

  • Barrier Methods: To deter slugs and snails, place diatomaceous earth, eggshells, or copper tape around garden beds.
  • Bait and Traps: Iron phosphate baits are safe and effective. Alternatively, setting up a beer trap can attract and drown slugs and snails.
  • Regular Monitoring: Collecting slugs and snails by hand can be very effective if done regularly.

4. Caterpillars

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These are the larval stages of moths and butterflies. While butterflies and moths can be beneficial for pollination, their larvae can cause significant damage to plants by chewing on leaves and fruits.

Control Methods:

  • Biological Control: Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) is a natural bacterial toxin that is harmless to humans and most beneficial insects but deadly to caterpillars when ingested.
  • Physical Removal: Regularly inspect plants and manually remove caterpillars.
  • Row Covers: Protect young plants with floating row covers to prevent moths and butterflies from laying eggs on them.

5. Spider Mites

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Spider mites are tiny arachnids that often go unnoticed until significant damage has occurred. They cause leaves to appear speckled with yellow and may produce fine webs.

Control Methods:

  • Increase Humidity: Spider mites thrive in dry conditions, so increasing humidity around your plants can help deter them.
  • Organic Miticides: Products containing sulfur or neem oil can be effective against spider mites. Be sure to apply these treatments according to the label instructions.
  • Predatory Mites: Introducing predatory mites into the garden can provide long-term control of spider mites.

6. Whiteflies

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Whiteflies are tiny, winged insects that cluster on the undersides of leaves. They extract sap from plants, leading to yellowing leaves, stunted growth, and the secretion of sticky honeydew, which promotes sooty mold growth.

Control Methods:

  • Yellow Sticky Traps: These can catch adults and reduce their numbers.
  • Horticultural Oils: Apply oils to the undersides of leaves where whiteflies congregate to suffocate the insects.
  • Encourage Beneficial Insects: Insects such as ladybugs, lacewings, and predatory wasps are natural predators of whiteflies.

7. Root Knot Nematodes

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These microscopic worms attack plants’ roots, causing swellings or galls that interfere with nutrient and water uptake, leading to stunted growth and wilted, yellowing leaves.

Control Methods:

  • Crop Rotation: Avoid planting susceptible crops in the same location year after year.
  • Solarization: Covering the soil with clear plastic during hot weather can raise soil temperatures to levels that kill nematodes.
  • Resistant Varieties: Planting nematode-resistant varieties can prevent these pests from taking hold.

8. Squash Bugs

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Squash bugs are hard to miss due to their size, about 5/8-inch long, and their brownish or gray bodies. They suck the sap from squash and pumpkin plants, causing the leaves to wilt and die.

Control Methods:

  • Handpicking: Regularly check the undersides of leaves and remove any bugs and eggs you find.
  • Row Covers: Use row covers to prevent them from accessing plants, especially during the seedling stage.
  • Neem Oil: Neem oil can deter squash bugs if applied early and regularly.

9. Colorado Potato Beetle

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This pest is easily recognizable by its yellow-and-black striped body and is notorious for its ability to rapidly develop resistance to pesticides. They devour potato leaves but will also attack eggplants, peppers, and tomatoes.

Control Methods:

  • Handpicking: Removing beetles, larvae, and eggs by hand can be effective in small gardens.
  • Floating Row Covers: Protect plants with row covers to prevent beetles from laying eggs.
  • Biological Control: Introduce beneficial nematodes that target the larvae stage of the beetle.

10. Scale Insects

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Scale insects can be hard to detect as they often look like part of the plant. They attach themselves to stems, branches, and leaves, sucking sap and weakening plants.

Control Methods:

  • Horticultural Oil: Apply horticultural oil to smother scales.
  • Pruning: Remove and destroy heavily infested branches and leaves.
  • Biological Controls: Encourage natural predators like ladybugs and lacewing larvae, which can help manage scale populations.

How to Attract Beneficial Insects to Your Garden

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Attracting beneficial insects to your garden is crucial for natural pest control and enhancing biodiversity. Here are several effective strategies to encourage these helpful critters:

  1. Plant Variety: Diverse plantings attract a variety of beneficial insects. Include plants like yarrow, dill, cosmos, and alyssum to draw in insects such as hoverflies, lacewings, and parasitic wasps, which prey on common garden pests.
  2. Native Plants: Incorporate native plants like sunflowers, Joe Pye weed, and asters to increase the number of beneficial insects. These plants provide essential nectar and pollen and are especially attractive to pollinators and predatory insects.
  3. Water Sources: Provide small watering stations or features like birdbaths to offer essential water to insects, encouraging them to stay in your garden.
  4. Avoid Broad-Spectrum Pesticides: These can harm beneficial insects. Opt for targeted treatments that minimize impact on non-target species when pest control is necessary.
  5. Provide Shelter: Leave some natural areas, such as leaf piles or undisturbed ground, to offer overwintering sites and nesting areas for predatory insects and pollinators. Also, delay garden cleanup until spring to protect overwintering beneficials.
  6. Flowering Herbs and Perennials: Plant herbs like fennel, angelica, and coriander and perennials, which not only attract beneficial insects but also serve as culinary resources.
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Davin is a jack-of-all-trades but has professional training and experience in various home and garden subjects. He leans on other experts when needed and edits and fact-checks all articles.